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I Will Go Down With This Ship

Ship It - from Riverdale writer Britta Lundin - is a queer outsider love story and a tribute to shipping. 

I Will Go Down With This Ship

BOOK REPORT for Ship It by Britta Lundin

Cover Story: Comic Can
BFF Charm: Gosh Yeah
Swoonworthy Scale: 8
Talky Talk: Too Real
Bonus Factors: CW, Fandom, Diversity
Relationship Status: I Ship It

Cover Story: Comic Can

The cover art is by comic artist Andrew Rae, and it's both a perfect love letter to the crowded, colorful insanity of a comic convention and to the comic books those conventions are celebrating. Moreover, it's charming and fun and romantic, all the things Ship It is, as well. 

The Deal

At her small town high school, Claire's a misfit, prickly and friendless. But on Tumblr, she's heart-of-lightness, a writer whose slashfic for first season supernatural thriller Demon Heart has tens of thousands of followers. After attending her first comic con and making waves at the Demon Heart panel, Claire's asked to join the endangered show's publicity tour - where she must confront the subjects of her fic, attempt to convince the macho showrunner to make her ship the real deal, and examine her emerging feelings for fellow fan Tess. 

BFF Charm: Gosh Yeah

Claire is a lot of things I was in high school: loudly opinionated, stubborn, obsessive, socially unsettled. And she's also smart, passionate and motivated. She can be a little myopic and a lot inflexible, but those are actually admirable qualities in a teen, because teens are usually beset by indecision and uncertainty. Claire knows who she is and what she wants, and she never wavers, even in the face of unpopularity. Even when she runs the risk of alienating the stars and creators of her favorite show. 

Swoonworthy Scale: 8

The growing romance between Claire and Tess is warm and believable and wonderful, and it's an especially exciting journey as Claire's navigating her first (admitted) feelings for another girl, one who understands her more than any boy ever has. But the swoonworthy factor gets a huge boost from the chapters that take place inside Claire's Demon Heart fic, between the demon hunter Smokey and demon Heart. It's no wonder heart-of-lightness has so many followers, because Claire's fic is sexxxy. 

Talky Talk: Too Real 

Lundin's prose is clear and clever, infinitely readable. But the moments that really get me are from Claire's urgent, earnest point of view, a perspective that still feels too fresh even though my own teendom was about twenty years ago. 

Take, for instance, this scene where Claire's trying to explain Demon Heart to her (sweet but) clueless mom. 

'So why does Smokey hate Heart if he's a good guy?'

'Well, because Smokey's a demon hunter, and Heart is a demon. But Smokey just won't believe that Heart isn't like other demons just because he has a...?' I raise my eyebrows and wait. 

'Heart?'

'Ding, ding, ding. Basically Smokey's discriminating against all demons without thinking of them as individuals. And yeah, most of them are evil, but he already knows Heart isn't like the others, he just doesn't trust Heart yet. But they'd actually be really good partners, if Smokey would ever get his life together and learn to trust another person.' I sigh. This show is just so good. 'You know, that classic thing where the guy acts all tough because he doesn't want to let anyone in, and the person he's pushing away the hardest is actually the one who'd be best for him? Yeah, that. That's why everyone ships them.'

'Ships them?' Mom asks. 

"You know, it's, like, short for relationship.'

'Okay...' Mom nods, keeping her eyes on the road, but I don't think she really gets it.

Bonus Factor: CW

Ship It is published by Disney's new imprint Freeform Books, and Freeform definitely has some Demon Heart-esque shows like Siren and Shadowhunters. But Demon Heart reminds me most of those hot supernatural thrillers on The CW - especially Supernatural, which has inspired its own fervent group of shippers in spite of the fact that its two main characters are brothers. 

Bonus Factor: Fandom

Lundin is no stranger to fandom. Not only is she a staff writer on fan-friendly Riverdale, but her bio says she's "a longtime fanfiction reader and writer herself," and "she is still passionate about fan communities and shipping." Her Twitter handle is even @brittashipsit. That authenticity comes into play in a big way in Ship It, a book that is warmly accepting of obsessive fandoms while also clear-eyed about the dilemma they can create for (official) storytellers.

But above and beyond all of that, Ship It is about finding your tribe, especially when you've long felt like a loner.

Here's Claire's first impression of her first con:

There's an energy in this place, and it doesn't even matter that the carpet is ugly and the fluorescent lights wash out everyone's skin - it's beautiful. The whole lobby is humming with excited fans - I see lots of young people, but also middle-aged couples, moms and dads with tiny kids. I see every body type, every fashion style, and, like, so much more racial diversity than you'd ever find in Pine Bluff. 

And then there are the cosplayers. There's a guy sitting against the wall who's dressed as Black Lightning, chatting with a female Winter Soldier. In the line to pick up badges, I see a very tall Brienne of Tarth laughing with a short black Hermione Granger. By the stairs, I smile as I watch a female Poe Dameron spot a Finn across the room and dash over to greet him and take a picture. My Demon Heart T-shirt doesn't even raise an eyebrow here. 

And Lundin, by way of Claire, makes the excellent argument that fandom - Tumblr and shipping and fic, the whole deal - is only considered silly and lame because it's a community largely populated by young women. 

Caty shrugs. 'And then of course there are the people who think fans are too entitled and they should just accept what they're given and if you don't like it, watch something else.'

I roll my eyes, I've heard that argument before. 'No one would say that if we weren't young women. It's like, when my dad calls in to sports radio to criticize some football coach for making a bad call, no one tells him he's being too entitled and if he doesn't like it, he should just go watch another team. His feelings are, like, automatically considered valid. So why aren't mine?'

And here's another one: 

To make art in fandom is to follow your passion at the risk of never being taken seriously.

[...] Every week I get anonymous messages in my inbox telling me I should write a real book. Well, haven't I already? What makes what I do different from 'real writing'? Is it that I don't use original characters? I guess that makes every Hardy Boys edition, every Star Wars book, every spinoff, sequel, fairy-tale retelling, historical romance, comic book reboot, and the musical Hamilton, 'not real writing.' Or is it that a real book is something printed, that you hold in your hand, not something you write on the internet? Or is 'real writing' something you sell in a store, not give away for free?

No, we all know it's none of these things. It's merely this: 'real writing' is done by serious people, whereas fanfiction is written by weirdos, teenagers, degenerates, and women.

PREACH, CLAIRE! I love this girl.

Bonus Factor: Diversity

It's no small thing that there's an interracial queer relationship at the center of Ship It - and one that goes beyond the usual literary boxes of straight/gay/bi, as Tess is a homoromantic pansexual while Claire's still figuring all of that out. But Tess also wisely points out that Claire - and in the case of this reader, the audience - focuses her fandom on what matters to her, instead of asking larger questions of identity from the things she loves.

'Maybe it's because I grew up seeing only white people on my television, and it's not like a showrunner can one day decide that a character's not white anymore, so I got used to the world being unfair, okay? I stopped caring what the showrunner thinks because a character can be anything in fic. They can be black or queer or fat or whatever the fuck I want, and I don't need anyone's permission.'

It's one nuance of many in Ship It, a charming, romantic, wish-fulfillment romp that isn't afraid to be about something - about several somethings, in fact. 

Relationship Status: I Ship It

I loved every page of Ship It. If there was a Tumblr community about this world, or about Claire and Tess' relationship, I'd be captain of that ship.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a free review copy of Ship It. I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!). Ship It will be available on May 1st.

Meredith Borders's photo About the Author: Meredith Borders is a brewpub owner and freelance writer/editor living in Houston. Her dog's middle name is Hermione, and she makes purse decisions based almost entirely on their capacity to hold books.
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