New York Times Bestseller Handbook For Mortals Is a Mortal Sin

My Immortal, on the other hand, is some quality work.

Features and List Co-editor

Meredith Mclaughlin

Recently, controversy erupted in the book world when a little-known novel titled Handbook for Mortals swiped the number one spot on the NY Times YA best sellers list from The Hate U Give. Hate for the book quickly spread after it was revealed that the author, Lani Sarem, and her publishers had bought their way to the top by ordering bulk shipments of the book to make it look like a bestseller. Further digging revealed that a shady movie deal is currently in the works for the fraud bestseller. This coupled with the fact that it’s unreadable has turned Handbook for Mortals into a literary pariah. I for one normally adore bad books, and was eager to read it. But Handbook for Mortals is a different kind of “bad book.” I won’t rest until people understand how awful both the book and its author are. In order to best expose this book for what it is it’s important to understand how much it differs from another famous work of literature.
My Immortal, an infamous Harry Potter fanfiction, is considered to be one of the most prolific pieces of literature to rock our generation. The plot is rambling and secondary to things like the main character’s outfit and MCR concerts in Hogsmede; the grammar, despite the author employing the use of a beta reader, gets worse and worse with each chapter. “What the hell are you doing, you motherfuckers!!!” is a line spoken by Dumbledore (this light character irregularity is explained as being caused by a headache.) It’s undoubtedly bad, but I think that My Immortal was able to stand out against the ocean of bad fanfics that preceded it due to its The Room-like quality: it’s so bad it’s good. My Immortal manages to encapsulate all of the bad tropes of fanfiction (self-inserts, bad grammar, massive plot holes, jarring author’s notes demanding good reviews etc.) but the extreme that the author takes her prose pushes it beyond any other fanfiction. Because of this, one of the biggest mysteries surrounding My Immortal was the nature of its sincerity; was it the serious writings of a troubled teen or simply a joke that got out of hand? For a while the answer to this question, as well as the identity of the author, appeared to be lost to the ages, similar to the contents of the Library of Alexandria. Recently, however, God has decided to remind us He exists because the author of My Immortal has come out into the public spotlight. A woman named Rose Christo confirmed that she had written My Immortal as a joke with a friend to pass the time while living in the foster care system. Her story is excellent and she is actually still a writer, and I encourage you to check her work out. The only reason any of this relates to Handbook for Mortals is because when it initially came out, people asked Christo if she wrote it as well.

It’s easy to understand why people believed Christo might have written the book, since Handbook for Mortals reads beat for beat like a bad fanfiction. The main character, Scheherazade Holder (Zade for short) is a blatant self-insert with a stereotypically ridiculous first name. I’m not even exaggerating; she looks and acts exactly like the author because Lani Sarem is playing Zade in the upcoming movie adaptation. About her appearance Zade says “people tell me I’m pretty all the time, beautiful even. I’m not sure I see what they see… I’m slender… (but) not ‘hot girl skinny… While I do have an hourglass figure I have always felt my butt is a little too big…’” Zade’s beauty is restated multiple times by both herself and other characters. But it gets worse. A la My Immortal, Zade describes what she’s wearing ad nauseum, and even says “…I wish a photographer had taken my picture at that moment… it would have made for a cool-looking photo.” Again this is the author essentially talking about herself. The plot itself is incredibly unengaging. Zade leaves her sleepy southern town to make it big in Los Angeles, but she has a secret! She can apparently perform magic (which she attributes to her “Gypsy” heritage) and uses this in her performances. Unfortunately for the reader, Lani is really bad at setting up a scene, establishing how magic works in her world, writing a novel, etcetera etcetera. Things “happen” to Zade but like it all takes a backseat to the forced love triangle in which, just like in all other “love triangles,” you already know who the main character is going to get with. Bella gets with Edward, Katniss gets with Peeta, E’bony gets with Draco, and Zade gets with literal garbage can Clarke “Mac” Kent. We know he’s going to be the one she gets with because he’s the only character that gets a special italicized third person POV like once a chapter. Handbook for Mortals also includes a trope-y mean girl named Sofia who is just treated like shit, similar to Brittany in My Immortal. However while Brittany is simply a prep straw woman, Sofia exists to offer weakly written conflict that the plot can’t provide and to make Zade look like a good person.

While I think on the surface Handbook for Mortals is very similar to My Immortal, I think that the intent behind these works is what separates them. It has been confirmed that every word of My Immortal was written as a satire of its medium. Not only that, it was a satire that was helping a couple of kids get through a really hard time in their lives. However, Handbook for Mortals was written as a serious novel that was meant to be the start of a media empire. I mean how bad do you have to be at writing that people compare your work to My Immortal, the worst fanfiction ever intentionally written? Handbook for Mortals is a cold, corporate attempt by a self-obsessed scam artist to star in a movie. My Immortal is a story that changed a generation.

 

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