“Authenticity” is a dangerous term.
In fiction, if a book is marketed as authentic but the experiences doesn’t feel realistic to the reader, that can color their opinion of the book.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot because this novel, Fangirl, has been talked about a lot in geek and tumblr circles. And rightfully so. Just look at that title. The novel follows a fan fiction writer in her first year of college. I know what being one of those is like. I’ll be measuring the book up to my own experience, wondering what lessons I can learn from it. And I’ll be disappointed if those lessons don’t feel relevant to my own life, since the book is trying so hard to hit my demographic.
But I’m trying to give Fangirl a break. Just because it talks about different experiences from mine - different kinds of fan fiction, different priorities, or a different kind of family, maybe - should not mean that it has has failed. There are so many different kinds of characters.
I write this to remind myself of that.
There are many different types of fangirls, as Her Universe's Year of the Fangirl has shown. Perhaps part of my problem with the book is the title - it doesn’t reference an image, or a circumstance, but simply the fangirl’s existence as such. That contributes, to me, to the feeling that this book is trying to speak to everyone, when one book simply cannot.
I feel the same way about Not So Long Ago, Not So Far Away, a "quirky coming-of-age novel" about a young woman who works at a movie theater during the first showings of A New Hope. It's about Star Wars, but it's also about a mysterious disappearance and a romance.
It's not like Fangirl is boasting of its own authenticity: although reviews have called it "close to home," the author clearly set out to write a story, not a guidebook. (Be careful with that link: it pretty thoroughly spoils a couple aspects of the book.)
The author, Rainbow Rowell, said in a discussion on The Narrative Breakdown that Fangirl is a sort of Alternate Universe of her own college experience. She didn’t read fan fiction in college, but she started recently as an adult and has been reading it regularly for about two years. The book is partially a record of her answering a question she posed to herself: ‘What if I had known about fan fiction in college?’
So I’m glad that Fangirl exists. I’m glad that its dedication to fan fiction is loud and simple and will invite fangirls like me to pick it up off the shelves. And I’m going to try to look past the title.
Fangirl hits the shelves on September 10.