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Review – I Was Born for This

‘I think the truth is that everyone in the entire world is confused and nobody understands much of anything at all’ – Angel Rahimi, I Was Born for This.

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Ever since her debut novel Solitaire in 2014, I have followed Alice Oseman’s writing and artistic journey. Not only a novelist but also a talented comic artist and YouTuber, Oseman has obtained a level of creative success at 23 that is rather hard to comprehend. I Was Born for This is Oseman’s third novel.

Using Joan of Arc quotes to frame the novel and set each following scene, I Was Born For This tells the story of how fangirl Fereshteh (Angel) Rahimi meets her idol, the famous singer Jimmy Kaga-Ricci from the boy-band The Ark. What could have easily been a clichéd love story (in fact, when I began the novel, I feared it might turn out to be), is instead a compelling story of friendship, fear, and what it means to be a fan in the modern world.

There are so many things that I love about Was Born for This, but one of the main ones is that it is so casually diverse. A muslim hijabi girl; a transgender Christian mixed-race gay guy; a straight black guy; two bisexual characters (one girl, one guy); asexuality – there is so much to relate to for so many different people, and I admire Oseman for working hard to portray them all sensitively and realistically.

Set in the span of one week, Fereshteh (known to her online friends as Angel) sets off for London to stay with her best friend Juliet Schwartz, whom she has never met in real life. Knowing more about her than her own ‘closest school friends’, Angel considers Juliet a ‘soulmate’ and they have long since bonded over their shared obsession with the boy-band The Ark. Missing her own school graduation to attend, Angel and Juliet have tickets to see The Ark in real life at a show later in the week. ‘It turns out that real life really isn’t that different to the internet’, Angel thinks early on, but how wrong she is – real life turns out to be much more insane.

Dually narrated, Jimmy Kaga-Ricci is a mentally unwell nineteen-year-old struggling to cope with his fame as an international boy-band singer. Jimmy’s anxiety is dryly noted as ‘the fourth member of the band’ and Oseman tackles the issue of anxiety being different from ‘anxious’ early on in the novel:

‘Anxiety,’ I say. ‘I’m anxious.’
‘About what?’
I laugh and shake my head. ‘Not how it works. We’ve been through this.’
‘Yeah, but, like, everything has a cause and effect.’
‘Anxiety is the cause and the effect.’

Jimmy loves music and has wanted to be in a band since he was a kid, but the constant pressure of fame haven’t come without consequences. Suffering from panic attacks and severe anxiety, Jimmy is also prone to paranoia. He lives a privileged life, but the very thing that has awarded him that privilege – international fame – has also stripped him of his autonomy and privacy. We meet him struggling against a restrictive contract that will catapult The Ark into the US, but Jimmy – unlike his band-mates and best friends Rowan Omandi and Lister Bird – doesn’t want to sign. He is homesick for his beloved Grandfather, Piero, and his paranoia about the risk that fans and media pose is growing every day.

During Angel’s week in London, she and Jimmy are brought by chance together – just for a brief moment – before everything spirals out of control, and both Angel and Jimmy find themselves on a journey to discover what it is they are truly looking for.

Although a novel with two first-person narrators can run the risk of one or the other being more compelling to engage with, I found both protagonists of I Was Born for This truly engaging. Angel is outgoing and talkative, easy to like and also easy to understand, and I loved joining her on her journey to self-realisation. I quickly felt sympathetic for Jimmy’s plight: while he is successfully doing the one thing he loves, that one thing has become toxic for the unhealthy level of media interest that follows his every move. Jimmy is introspective in a way that allows the reader an inside-view of how scarily intense severe anxiety can be.

Both Angel and Jimmy have brilliant supporting characters who are deliberately living life as their best selves. I particularly loved Rowan, Jimmy’s bandmate and best friend, who wears dresses on stage and acts motherly towards both Jimmy and Lister, constantly checking up on the two of them. The loving (deliberately not toxic masculinity) relationship between the three boys was beautiful to read. Lister is the outgoing, handsome member of the band who loves to throw parties, and whose bisexuality stereotype is blatantly destroyed in one fell swoop by Oseman. While Jimmy originally thinks Lister is ‘having sex with someone, or several someones, at every party we went to’, Lister sternly tells his friends (and readers) that ‘not all bisexuals are having sex every five minutes’. Angel continues the sexual orientation diversity by stating that she doesn’t ‘really ever get crushes on anyone, so I just don’t know what I am right now, to be honest’, which is the best piece of honesty I have seen in a novel for a long time.

I Was Born for This focusses on an intense exploration of the symbiotic media-and-fan relationship, particularly what it means to be an obsessed fan and what it means to have the attention of obsessed fans. Loving The Ark is an escape from reality for Angel, as she describes: ‘I don’t love anything as much as I love [The Ark]. Even myself’. While Angel only ever sees the portrayed part of being famous – The Ark’s smiles and their success – Jimmy is living with the reality, and that reality is not pretty. He describes journalists as ‘worse than the [fans] because they’re doing it for money, not love’. Dave, a Rolling Stone interviewer who questions the three band members, turns out to be vindictive and a bully – not only labelling the three Ark members by adjectives (‘Rowan, born to Nigerian immigrants; Lister, brought up in a single-parent family on benefits; Jimmy, a transgender guy of both Indian and Italian heritage’), but pushes the three to admit that they have ‘lied’ by omission to their fans for ‘not telling the truth’ about themselves and their personal relationships. While this deliberately negative view of media is pervasive in the novel, it is mostly seen through the eyes of characters living within the direct eye of that media.

I Was Born for This is a complex but sensitive portrayal of what it means to be a fan and what it means to have them. One of my favourite YA reads of 2018, I suggest you read I Was Born for This in one long gulp – it is extremely addictive and will hold you captive until you do.

I Was Born for This
Alice Oseman
HarperCollins, 2018

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