Review: I Was Born For This

This book fascinated me. Like actually. I was so invested and so interested, perhaps because parts of it felt really relatable and perhaps because it felt really relevant and was a really interesting take on a really interesting story. To be honest, anything to do with fandom always peaks my interest because it’s something that, to a degree, I am familiar with.

I Was Born For This deals with fandom but interestingly it looks at the whole thing from both sides, that of the fan and of the celebrity, which I liked because AT THE RISK OF REPEATING MYSELF, it’s really really interesting. Sometimes I think it can be easy to fall into a trap wherein you see celebrities as sort of two-dimensional; this book calls you out on that, and I think, in this age of the internet, of accessibility, that's really important.  It also deals with internet friendships, it deals with finding your place and feeling like you belong, it deals with mental health and on top of all of that it’s beautifully wonderfully diverse and not in that sometimes obnoxious ticking boxes way.

It is, quite frankly, a gem of a book and I offer Alice Oseman the highest of fives.

As contemporary YA fiction goes, I think Alice Oseman might be at the top of her game. UKYA is lucky to have her. I thought that when I read Radio Silence and I think it now, take this book – masterfully created with intricate, well thought out characters that you want to pop in your pocket and keep safe. It’s really really good, guys, really good.

Here’s the deal, then: Jimmy’s in a boy band called The Ark, and he’s sort of an accidental superstar. The band GOT BIG quite without him realising and now his life is all sold out stadiums and screaming fangirls who think they’re in love with him and who – mostly – seem to be obsessed with the idea of him having a secret relationship with his best friend and band mate. He can’t even leave his flat without causing some kind of twitter/tumblr mayhem. It’s part what dreams are made of and part what nightmares are made of and all of it is exhausting and its absolutely not good for his anxiety.

Then, on the other side of the coin is Angel. Angel is one of The Ark’s superfans. She lives and breathes this band, everything else is secondary somehow because they’ve made her feel like she has a place, made her part of something bigger than herself and honestly, she doesn’t know who she is outside of them. It’s not an exaggeration to say her life is built around this band, around other people who feel like she does about this band and whilst her parents are a little bit worried, for Angel, online with these people that get her is the only time she can really just be.

This story is their story, Angel’s and Jimmy’s, told over a week – a week when Angel heads down to London to visit her friend Juliet - a friend she’s only ever talked to on the internets but who she really feels knows the bones of her and vice versa -  and goes to a fandom meetup and then to see The Ark, and Jimmy, in concert.

It’s a book that will be important I think to lots of people in lots of ways. Fandom or no fandom I think the things this book touches on are things we all feel at some point to a degree. That all-encompassing happiness, that feeling of belonging, but also that feeling of falling, of not knowing who you are or where you’re going. We’ve all been there, right? I’ve been there. It's wistful this book, but beautiful, full of complex feelings that you can’t vocalise, can’t understand until you’re feeling them. Jimmy’s anxiety for example: it’s so wonderfully done that it made my chest tight, so clearly and honestly was it portrayed. It doesn’t feel like it’s even trying this book and yet it continually hits so many nails right on the head and at the same time it’s also a really excellent story.

My thoughts are a little bit of a jumble here [WHAT IS EVEN NEW] so bear with me, it might make sense in the end.

So here’s the thing. It’s wistful, yes, but it’s also lovely and it really gets under the skin of what it feels like to believe in something.

It’s a funny old thing, fandom, and I’m 35 now so you can imagine things have come a long way from how they were when I was heavily involved, but even then, before the likes of Tumblr, when we spent our time on forums and on LJ, it was a funny old place – this place you could go where you could get excited about a thing, where you could live it and breathe it and theorise and talk and KEYSMASH with other people who got it, where you could analyse every. little. thing, where you lived in a bubble of fanfiction and fanart and DID YOU SEE THAT THING and you can form a bond with these other people who feel like you do and it all feels so real even though actually in some ways you're kind of removed from reality. Those people might be a million miles away but at the same time they’re right there and if you’re lucky, what starts as a shared interest in a tv show/book/band can become a lifelong friendship.

Alice Oseman gets that – she gets that connection, that friendship, and also the weight of expectation that goes with it and the way she’s written Angel taking that step from online friend to real life friend is just excellent.

I never went to a meetup in my fandom days, although they did happen: I was just never brave enough to get on a train and meet all these people at once,  and I never went all out to try and meet the celebrities I liked - although my fandom experience was never real-person so much, I was more about the books and the tv shows than imagining my fave characters hooking up IRL, and RPF makes me feel a bit skeevy truth be told, (also the one time I met Darren Criss I became an incoherent puddle of mush and where is that photo omg I hope it’s not lost in my no longer existent Facebook, the horror) – but nevertheless I could relate to parts of this and I certainly witnessed this level of intensity even if I was always a bit removed from it.  I Was Born for This does that whole thing justice, online friendships and fandom are realistically portrayed and I loved it.

I loved Angel – I loved her passion and her determination and her loyalty and I also loved her naivety, her inability to see beyond her Ark shaped bubble, and even as I gritted my teeth and thought jeez kid, get a grip, I loved her. Her character development in this book is so so excellent - I loved seeing her come into her own and figure out her shit. I also loved how she wore her hijab and said her prayers and it was never a big deal; it wasn’t a plot point, it was just who she was – this book nails diversity. Oh but that there were more books like this.

& then I loved how you got to see it from the other side, because as a fan you love this – in this case this band – so intensely and you can’t see it as anything but positive- and you know what, it is because we all deserve to get excited about whatever makes out weird little hearts happy  -  but from the other side, it’s not all rosy. I’ve witnessed it, to a degree, been out to dinner with a friend and been disturbed with requests for a photo, heard whispers of ‘oh my God it’s….’ as we’ve walked down the street, seen his shoulders stiffen almost imperceptibly as his catchphrases are yelled at him across a public domain and its hard. When you multiply that by a million screaming fangirls, who have your name as their twitter handle, who live and breathe your every move, who have no concept AT ALL of boundaries – it’s less flattering and more kind of terrifying and the guys in The Ark, they’re just kids too, just Angel’s age and they didn’t ask for this and they’re not equipped for this and they’re best friends in the same band that can’t even share a smile without breaking the internet and it’s intense and at times it’s too much.

Too much love can hurt you.

When it comes to being on the receiving end of the intense love of a fandom that might well be true.
Jimmy is a gorgeous character and a timely reminder that whilst that person you’re obsessing over might seem somehow removed from you they’re still a real person with a real life and real feelings and real demons. Don’t tweet the actors – that’s a thing, right? This book shows why that is a thing -because Angel watches Jimmy perform with a smile on his face, and has no idea that he’s spent days fighting panic attacks because the fact all he sees on twitter is rumours about him sleeping with best friend has sent his anxiety disorder into overdrive. Differing perspectives of the same story is one of my favourite things to read and this book DOES IT SO WELL.  It’s what made the story so fascinating for me – Angel and Jimmy are such interesting characters, their motivations, their backgrounds, the decisions they make, nothing here is romanticised and it all gripped me. I couldn’t put this book down. 

I loved it. I loved every single one of those messed up kids and I didn’t want their story to end.  It’s absolutely worth a read and it's out now so you can.