Saturday, July 1, 2017

5 Books That Capture the Fangirl Experience

Being a fan can be exhilarating, but it can also be isolating. I don't know about you, but sometimes I feel weird for loving fictional characters and worlds so much. PSA: you are not weird. You are perfectly valid, and so are your experiences with stories. I've found five published stories that prove it! They sum up what it's like to be in a fandom, write fanfiction, love a fictional character... and they even discuss the real world to boot. When it comes down to it, these novels and their main characters get it, and they'll definitely get you. Here are five novels I've found that perfectly capture the fangirl experience. (Another PSA: While I used the term fangirl, I believe these books can be relatable for people with any gender identity.)

1. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.
Okay, everybody is a Simon Snow fan, but for Cath it's something more. Fandom is life. It's what got her and her sister, Wren, through losing their mom. It's what kept them close.
And now that she's starting college, introverted Cath isn't sure what's supposed to get her through. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fanfiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.
For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?
And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind? -Rainbow Rowell's website
This book is iconic and aptly named. It centers around Cath, a shy college freshman who writes fanfic about the wizard Simon Snow and his nemesis, Baz. (They make appearances in the form of snippets of Cath's fanfic.) The book centers around her online interactions but also her attempts to integrate into a new college and the frightening hemisphere known as Real Life. Along the way, she navigates relationships of the platonic and the romantic kind. (There is, of course, a squee-worthy romance and a perfect love interest for you to fangirl over.)

I connected with this book personally because of Cath's anxiety, which I felt was very realistic. The realism overflows into how fandom was portrayed as well. Overall, Fangirl lives up to both its name and its hype. (Bonus: if you like this one, pick up its companion novel, Carry On, which is named after Cath's fanfic and focuses solely on Simon and Baz.)

2. Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, and friendless. Online, Eliza is LadyConstellation, anonymous creator of the wildly popular webcomic Monstrous Sea. Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves her digital community and has no desire to try.
Then Wallace Warland,
Monstrous Sea's biggest fanfiction writer, transfers to her school. Wallace thinks Eliza is just another fan, and Eliza begins to wonder if a life offline might be worthwhile. But when Eliza’s secret is accidentally shared with the world, everything she’s built—her story, her relationship with Wallace, and even her sanity—begins to fall apart. - Francesca Zappia's website
I just read this book, and it quickly catapulted itself onto my favorites list. On the author's website, it's recommended for fans of Fangirl, and that comparison couldn't be more accurate. It has a reserved main character who's creative. It has a swoon-worthy love-interest. (Seriously, I love Wallace Warland.) And it has a realistic, nuanced, sometimes-tough-to-read portrayal of mental health. Much like Fangirl, this book is interspersed with art and snippets from Monstrous Sea, which are fun to read. (I desperately need Monstrous Sea to be a real fandom now.) Eliza's role as a fandom creator and Wallace's role as a fan are both extremely accurate and comforting to read. It's a book that will make you feel less alone. And in a world where it's easy to feel lonely, that's worth more than gold.

3. Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here by Anna Breslaw

Meet Scarlett Epstein, BNF (Big Name Fan) in her online community of fanfiction writers, world-class nobody at Melville High. Her best (read: only) IRL friends are Avery, a painfully shy and annoyingly attractive bookworm, and Ruth, her weed-smoking, possibly insane seventy-three-year-old neighbor.
When Scarlett’s beloved TV show is canceled and her longtime crush, Gideon, is sucked out of her orbit and into the dark and distant world of Populars, Scarlett turns to the fanfic message boards for comfort. This time, though, her subjects aren’t the swoon-worthy stars of her fave series—they’re the real-life kids from her high school. And if they ever find out what Scarlett truly thinks about them, she’ll be thrust into a situation far more dramatic than anything she’s ever seen on TV… -Goodreads
Despite its title, Scarlett Epstein is a feel-good read. I laughed, I cried, and I felt all the feelings. It focuses on the titular heroine, Scarlett, and her secret hobby, fanfiction. Like the previous two books on the list, the book includes snippets of the fanfiction, but this time it's more than just snippets--it's huge chunks, like a story within a story, which ends up being just as engaging as the main storyline itself. What made the novel so great were its side characters--particularly Ruth, Scarlett's eccentric, lovable neighbor with a love for good fiction and good weed. Scarlett herself is just as eccentric with a strong voice and a lovable personality. Her character arc is emotional, engaging, and satisfying, both with regards to her role in fandom and outside of it. This book has aspects I think everyone can relate to and draw from. Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here is a satisfying look at both the fangirl experience and the human experience and where the two intersect.

4. Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Hegelson

Gena (short for Genevieve) and Finn (short for Stephanie) have little in common. Book-smart Gena is preparing to leave her posh boarding school for college; down-to-earth Finn is a twenty-something struggling to make ends meet in the big city. Gena’s romantic life is a series of reluctant one-night-stands; Finn is making a go of it with long-term boyfriend Charlie. But they share a passion for Up Below, a buddy cop TV show with a cult fan following. Gena is a darling of the fangirl scene, keeping a popular blog and writing fan fiction. Finn’s online life is a secret, even from Charlie. The pair spark an unlikely online friendship that deepens quickly (so quickly it scares them both), and as their individual “real” lives begin to fall apart, they increasingly seek shelter online and with each other. -Goodreads
Gena/Finn is a roller coaster of a book. Told in a unique format, there's no narrative in this book. Instead, "the story follows the unlikely friendship of two young women forged via fan fiction and message boards, and is told entirely in texts, chats, and blog posts." I'm a sucker for stories told in formats like this, and Gena/Finn didn't disappoint. It nailed the aesthetic of an internet friendship, right down to the formatting of the Internet message boards. (Finn even had a Tumblr!) The way Gena and Finn's friendship grew and developed was really relatable as well--it represented internet friendships in an accurate way that's rare to see.

Like the other books on this list, there are also fanfiction excerpts. And in this one, they get to go to a convention. There are just so many levels of fangirl life that get represented in this book. The last half of the book gets a little more heavy and a little less focused on fandom. However, I'd definitely recommend giving this book a try for what it has to say about fandom and relationships as well as the amazingly cool format.

5. Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

When BFFs Charlie, Taylor and Jamie go to SupaCon, they know it’s going to be a blast. What they don’t expect is for it to change their lives forever.
Charlie likes to stand out. SupaCon is her chance to show fans she’s over her public breakup with co-star, Reese Ryan. When Alyssa Huntington arrives as a surprise guest, it seems Charlie’s long-time crush on her isn’t as one-sided as she thought.
While Charlie dodges questions about her personal life, Taylor starts asking questions about her own.
Taylor likes to blend in. Her brain is wired differently, making her fear change. And there’s one thing in her life she knows will never change: her friendship with Jamie—no matter how much she may secretly want it to. But when she hears about the Queen Firestone SupaFan Contest, she starts to rethink her rules on playing it safe. -Goodreads
Queens of Geek is a delight. It manages to be simultaneously light-hearted and full of depth. It focuses around one convention, so it's chock-full of fandom references, both to real-life fandoms and made up ones. Its characters are relatable and funny. We get to see two sides of fandom here--a fan's perspective and an actress' perspective--and both are engaging. There are also two adorable love stories within this book. One of them is between two best friends, and one of them is between two girls (which provides valuable representation). Both of them are absolutely fangirl-worthy.

While this is a fun, easy read, it packs a punch when it needs to. Much like Fangirl and Eliza and Her Monsters, one of the main characters has anxiety, and her brain functions differently. It was a great portrayal of what it's like to live with anxiety. Queens of Geek also tackles topics like feminism and social injustice. As if that's not great enough, it's incredibly diverse, with a Latino main character, a bisexual main character, and a main character with Asperger's. There's also a male as part of the cast, which shows that fandom isn't restricted just to the fangirls. Queens of Geek shows that fandom is a diverse community filled with all types of people and that it should be a welcoming space for everyone. Fandom is a safe space, a home, and a community, and Queens of Geek proves that exceptionally well. Definitely pick up this book if you want a fun, enjoyable read that showcases the joys of being a fan... and a queen of geek.

What books have you read that capture the fangirl experience?

1 comment:

  1. *swallows this post whole* Oh my word, you do not know how much I needed this in my life!!! I've read Fangirl and LOVED it and I cannot wait to read these other books. Thanks so much, Sky!