Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (5)
Spoiler Alert is romance for the new age of adults, growing up in the digital age, entire personas and hobbies overflowing from the internet into everyday life.
Olivia Dade's Spoiler Alert is romance for the new adult. It's the story of April Whittier and Marcus Castor-Rupp: two late-thirty-somethings who are working to balance their public and private lives.
April Whittier is a huge Gods of the Gates fan... in fact, she's been writing fan fiction about the TV show for years, only sharing this passion with other fandom writers online. However, moving to a new city and a new job, April is determined to share all of herself with the people in her new life. Tired of hiding after a childhood of being told her plus-size body was too much, April posts a photo of her Lavinia cosplay online, catching the attention of fat-shamers, trolls, and Marcus Caster-Rupp, the TV heartthrob and actor who portrays Aeneas - the very character that April's been writing (smutty) fiction about online!
However, Marcus also has a secret. Throughout his seven-year career as Aeneas, the Demi-god lead character of Gods of the Gates, he's been playing dumb, literally and figuritively. From his fans to his parents, Marcus's biggest acting job is maintaining his own persona to shield himself from criticism he's faced his entire life.
Desperate to keep his life private, his heart armored, and his career out of jeopardy (by accidentally sharing too much about the show with hounding reporters), Marcus fine tunes his shallow playboy appearance. That is, until he logs into the Gods of the Gates fandom server where he writers under another pseudonym, AeneasWouldNever!, slamming the show writers and directors and revising all the faults he's kept his mouth shut about during his run as Aeneas. In breach of his contract, he keeps his fandom life entirely private, only sharing these parts of himself with his friends in the fandom, and with UnapologeticLaviniaStan, his online best friend and editor whose real name he doesn't know.
When Marcus swoops in to defend a woman online, he ends up asking her on a date in view of all the online trolls. When he swoops in to save April from online humiliation, offering to go out with her to make the cruel comments stop, he doesn't expect April to see the cracks in his persona.
Even more than that, he's shocked to discover that he is known by this woman. April is UnapologeticLaviniaStan, the writer he's been close to for years.
Unable to tell her who he is, in fear of the Gods of the Gates officials pulling his name from the project if they find out, Marcus dances the line between personal and private persona, letting April get to know him as Marcus, not just the shallow and dim-witted actor who portrays Aeneas. However, as they spend more time together and grow closer - Marcus becoming a regular part of April's life and online writing - he struggles to keep his three personas separate, scared to lose not just his career, but now April and everything she's brought into his life.
As someone who grew up in online writing communities, immersed in fanfiction that taught me the skills I needed in writing to bring my own stories to life, it's refreshing to read something that openly and proudly delves into the world of fanfiction writers. Dade validates fandom and fanfiction through April and Marcus. Both adults, both professionals, both in love with the writing and the community. Dade portrays the fanfiction as an outlet, a revisionist history, a talent, and a vibrant and supportive community.
She gives Marcus and April all the joys I felt growing up in a writing community, and I felt seen on the page, as someone whose best friend also came from those early online writing years. The relationships you form are real and close, and the bond between UnapologeticLaviniaStan and AeneasWouldNever! showcases that so well.
Olivia Dade pulls this book off phenomenally, elevating the fanfiction storyline from something of teens and college kids, to a hold-over hobby for adults, where they not only experience the canon, but immerse themselves in the content, exploring themes and plots through their own writing. A simple tv show like the fictional Iliad spin-off, Gods of the Gates, becomes so much more for fanfic writers. For Marcus and April, it gave them the support they didn't feel in their in-person lives and allowed them to share parts of themselves that others frowned upon.
This book, however, is so much more than a fanfic writer story. Marcus and April, only able to share themselves as anonymous friends (and maybe more) online, struggle with real issues in their everyday lives.
This book portrays these adult characters as people who are still growing, and it's refreshing to see that not every adult always feels like an adult. Marcus and April have their lives together on paper, but they struggle with what lies beneath the surface - what they've hid from others for so long.
April, a plus-sized woman who's been shamed for her size much of her life (by the people who were meant to love her the most), opens herself to the criticism and the support, ready to get beyond the comments and finally demand what she deserves in all aspects of her life. Confident but with realistic moments of doubt, April presses forward into a date with the shallow pretty boy of Gods of the Gates, completely aware that he's offered the date to get back at the online trolls and not because he's actually interested. April, however, isn't interested in Marcus's facade either.
“She loved shiny things, always had. But he wasn't a diamond. Just fool's gold.”
Unable to settle for anyone who doesn't pique her mind as well as her body - even famous, gorgeous actors - April has no interest in continuing things with Marcus beyond their own publicity-stunt-date. But when she begins to see more to him than what he allows other's to see, she zeroes in on the Marcus that she hopes is under there, desperate to allow him to be himself without criticism, without fear of the media learning too much about him. She wants him to trust her, growing closer with every date, every open conversation.
But Marcus is unwilling to open up, can't share everything. Even as April believes he's finally showing her all of who he is, Marcus devolves under the weight of keeping so much from her. Marcus's mental health and moods oscillate with his dishonesty, afraid of losing everything he's worked for and losing April to his own lies. Ultimately, he's not as ready as April is to step into the light, and their relationship stutters because of his insecurities and fears.
The chemistry between Marcus and April is off the charts. This is what impressed me the most about Dade's writing (and something that I haven't see done as well in her other novels). The dialogue is witty, clever, sweet at times. They compliment each other in multiple ways, even as they deal with their own insecurities. They give each other room to not be perfect while still helping the other press forward. That was my favorite part of the novel.
Their relationship is realistic, wracked by both of their insecurities, and at times tumultuous. But these characters know what they want and what they deserve in their lives (even if it takes Marcus longer to figure himself out), and they ultimately need to put in the work on themselves in order to stay together.
Spoiler Alert was an unexpected bright spot in 2020, leaving me desperate for another book to fill the hole this one carved out in me.