fiction · YA

I Was Born For This- Alice Oseman

Fandoms. I’ve been part of them (nope, not saying which ones!), and I’ve also been an observer of them for something I was writing in the past. They’re complex, complicated, and far deeper than most outsiders are willing to assign credit, and when I learned about I Was Born for This by Alice Oseman (Harper Collins Children’s Books, 2018), which centers on a boy band (for lack of a better term) and one fan in particular, I knew I had to read it. And it just so happens that this book fits in well with one of PopSugar’s 2020 Reading Challenge prompts: an author in their 20’s! Voilà, two boxes ticked off right there.

Angel Rahimi has embarked on the biggest adventure of her life: traveling to London to stay with her internet friend Juliet (whom she’s never met in person) in order to attend a meet-and-greet with The Ark, their favorite band. Angel and Juliet know everything about the boys in the band, and Angel feels them on a soul-deep level. The Ark is her life, so much that she’s skipping her ‘finished with high school’ ceremony for this trip, and her family is worried. Angel’s not, but the trip almost immediately gets off to a rocky start when she learns she’s not the only internet friend at Juliet’s.

Jimmy Kaga-Ricci is one of three members of The Ark, not quite nineteen, and the fame- the crowds, the pressure, the lack of privacy and the inability to have anything even resembling a life- is starting to get to him. Panic attacks, sleepless nights, fear of fans and flying, they’re making him hate his life, and cracks are showing in his relationships with the two other band members, childhood friends of his. The Ark is up for a new contract, and Jimmy feels sick every time he even thinks about it.

When Angel’s and Jimmy’s paths collide, both of them will learn lessons they’ve needed to learn for a while now: the difference between fantasy and reality and how to face it, what authenticity looks like, who you can trust when the chips are down, and who should get to decide their futures.

Alice Oseman knows fandom. If you’ve ever been involved in a fandom, especially a music fandom, you’ll recognize how superbly researched I Was Born for This is. She taps deeply into Angel’s adoration of the band, going so far as to nearly make The Ark her sole identity and being unable, or possibly just unwilling, to connect to the people at her school and real life. Jimmy is slowly being suffocated by the fame; his bandmates have different ways of reacting, but no one is doing well with this, and Ms. Oseman paints a desolate picture of the price celebrities pay in order to put their art and music out into the world. While I’ve never been famous (I’m far too boring for that!), I’ve done a lot of reading on fame and its costs, and her portrayal of The Ark’s terrifying success is spot-on.

But what really stands out here is The Ark’s fandom. There are so many different facets to fandom, and Ms. Oseman makes sure the reader is aware of that. The soul-deep fans like Angel, the fake fans like Mac, the casual fans, the over-the-top fans, the psycho fans (I know someone who pulled up to a celebrity’s mother’s house, got out, stole a leaf from her yard, then drove off. Plenty of us in this group were horrified by this), the “I’m so in love with you!!!” fans, the fanfiction writers, the ‘shippers, the fans who are seriously there for each other, it’s all here, and it’s so, so good. This is the book I needed back in my younger days, and the book that I would’ve loved to use as research back when I was writing something that involved a fandom.

There’s a huge amount of positive representation of so many groups in this book. Angel (real name Fereshteh) is a hijabi Muslimah; Jimmy Kaga-Ricci is transgender and gay and suffers from depression and panic attacks; Lister Bird (another member of The Ark) is bisexual; Rowan (the third Ark member) is Nigerian. And with the exception of Jimmy’s mental illnesses, none of these are presented as Issues To Be Dealt With; rather, Ms. Oseman paints each character fully and then sends them on their way. Being transgender or bisexual or religious is treated with respect, but nothing is ever made An Issue (my growing-up-and-reading-YA-in-the-80’s-and-90’s self still so appreciates this; back then, everything was A Very Serious Issue, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop being grateful for characters who are something other than straight, white, cishet, etc, just going about their days and not being made a massive fuss over because they’re in a subset of humanity). It’s just characters based on real people living their lives, and it’s the kind of book I’m here for.

I Was Born for This is fun, moving, thought-provoking, and bursting with the kind of YA energy that teenagers deserve. Every time I read YA like this, I’m so jealous of the quality of writing teens are offered these days. I wish books like these, full of honest stories that speak to real teenagers, who they are and what they want and need, had been available when I was younger, but I’m even more glad that they’re available now. This book is a joy, and a treasure.

Visit Alice Oseman’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · romance

The Idea of You- Robinne Lee

Would you believe I’m actually feeling better??? It’s amazing!!!! Of course, that means I entirely overdid it on Sunday, trying to get caught up, and spent a good part of yesterday struggling to walk, but let’s not talk about that.

Let’s talk about this book.

I have a tough time falling asleep at night, and I wake up a lot, so I keep a podcast going in my earbud all night. The sound helps me drift off to sleep, and when I wake up, it gives me something to focus on besides my anxiety-based thoughts (like, “OMG, I’ll never get enough sleep and then I’ll be a mess in the morning and I’ll drive off the road and kill everyone!” Zero to a hundred in no time flat, my brain). My current listen is Smart Bitches, Trashy Podcast, and I love it. Last month, I woke up one morning for no good reason at 4 am and Episode #296 with author Julia Whelan was chugging along in my earbud. Sarah Wendell, the host, was asking Ms. Whelan if there were any books she’d been reading lately that she’d like to recommend, and Ms. Whelan immediately said, “Robinne Lee’s The Idea of You” (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2017). As she launched into the description, I’m pretty sure I gasped in the early morning darkness, and I immediately rolled over, grabbed my phone, and added it to my Goodreads TBR. As someone who usually just tries to stay still and fall back to sleep as quickly as possible, moving around when I wake up is serious business. THAT is how much I wanted to read this book. I was beyond thrilled when I checked during more awake, more daylight hours to find that a local library had a copy of this.

Solène Marchand is almost forty, a successful art gallery owner and single mother of a young teenage daughter. She’s fought hard to be where and who she is, leaving her unhappy marriage after her husband had different ideas of who she should have been, and while she may be lonely, she’s still content. Everything changes when her ex bails on taking her daughter and friends to an August Moon concert, August Moon being THE hot British boy band. Solène steps in, and a backstage meet and greet with the band puts her on the radar of Hayes Campbell, adorable, sexy band member who is twenty years her junior. What Solène thinks is just flirting turns into something else when Hayes begins to pursue her despite his crazy and hectic schedule.

Hiding everything from almost everyone she knows, including her daughter, Solène and Hayes begin a deeply emotional, incredibly sexy tryst, meeting up in cities along his tour route, tucked away in the back of darkened restaurants, spending their time backstage at concert arenas and Hayes’s hotel rooms. Solène hadn’t expect to actually fall for a twenty year old boy bander, but he’s in just as deep as she is. And when the real world- Hayes’s fame, Solène’s daughter, their age difference- creeps into the fortress they’ve carefully constructed around themselves, Solène needs to make a lot of difficult decisions.

My synopsis of this does NOT do this book justice. This book is complex, studying society’s attitude towards age and aging (and the difference between male and female aging), feminism, parenting (and the different roles men and women are expected to play and expect each other to play), relationships, friendship, and fame- what it’s like, how we react to it, the positives and negatives and dangers of it. It’s romance, but- potential spoiler alert here- its ending kind of kicks it out of traditional romance territory. (It’s not a true spoiler, as almost immediately Solène begins to question the longevity of her relationship with Hayes. With a twenty-year age difference, how could one NOT?)

In the past, when I’ve read books with characters who are involved in the art world, they often seem humorless, dry, and detached, but Solène felt more immediate, more present and real. Her complicated feelings about her relationship with Hayes, especially in relation to her young daughter, made her extremely sympathetic and relatable- obviously, I’ve never been in her shoes before, but as a parent, you’re constantly forced to pit your child’s needs with your own needs and desires, and it’s a never-ending battle of how much or how little you have to sacrifice, and what you can still keep in your life while still giving your kids everything they need. So while the inclusion of Isabelle, Solène’s daughter, as a character gave the story more of an edge of anxiety that I’m usually comfortable with, it also kept the story emotionally real. Solène has to make a lot of hard decisions throughout the course of this book, and I think most of them show her as selfless, or eventually selfless (which…isn’t always a great quality, you know? While putting others first is usually a great thing, at some point, if you’re always selfless, you start to lose…yourself. And if you don’t have yourself, what DO you have?).

And Hayes. *SWOON* I’ve got a special place in my heart for boy bands, British or not, and Hayes and his fellow bandmates are so well-written. They’re young, but not immature; lively without being annoying; sharp, witty, sarcastic, intelligent, and sexy as all hell. Hayes is mature without seeming over-written or artificial; his feelings for Solène are deep and authentic. The chemistry he and Solène have is off-the-charts hot, and if you’re more into chaste romances, this isn’t your kind of book. By necessity, Solène and Hayes spend the vast majority of their relationship tucked away somewhere private, and so there’s a lot of hot monkey sex, some of it somewhat graphic, in these pages. It’s all so well and beautifully, reverentially written, though; this isn’t smut for the sake of smut.

The end, which, as I said boots this book out of traditional romance territory, is a bit gutting, but not surprising, at least not to me. I thought it fit the story and the characters perfectly, and it was the only honest ending that Ms. Lee could have written. Anything else would have been even more heartbreaking and soul-crushing, and while it’s not the ending I wished for the characters, it’s the only realistic one, the only one that I would have believed.

The famous person/normal person relationship trope is my absolute favorite, so this book ticked a lot of boxes for me and I’m so happy I just happened to wake up at the right moment to hear about it! Talk about serendipity. I’m looking forward to seeing what Robinne Lee writes next, because I enjoyed this so very much. She’s hooked me as a fan with her writing style, her way of seeing the world, and her understanding of the complexity of human emotions.

Have you read this? Are you a fan of the famous person/normal person relationship trope? What about the older woman/younger man trope? (That one usually weirds me out a little more. My son is just about three years younger than Hayes, so…nope. Not quite for me, but it worked well in this book.)

Visit Robinne Lee’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.