Our second Author Takeover for May is from young adult author Alice Oseman, whose incredible third novel, I Was Born For This, was published in the UK earlier this month. An absolute must-read for everyone who has ever been involved in fandom, Alice’s novel has a particularly insightful exploration of the light and dark side of shipping, something the Potter fandom knows all about.
For Angel Rahimi life is about one thing: The Ark – a pop-rock trio of teenage boys who are taking the world by storm. Being part of The Ark’s fandom has given her everything she loves – her friend Juliet, her dreams, her place in the world.
Jimmy Kaga-Ricci owes everything to The Ark. He’s their frontman – and playing in a band with his mates is all he ever dreamed of doing.
But dreams don’t always turn out the way you think and when Jimmy and Angel are unexpectedly thrust together, they find out how strange and surprising facing up to reality can be.
As well as a brilliant exploration of fandom, from the perspectives of both the superfan and the artist, I Was Born for This is a stunning and inclusive reflection of present-day teenage life, anxieties, and the powerful magic of believing in something – especially yourself.
The Joys of Shipping
Harry Potter was the first book series that introduced me to the concept of “shipping.” For seven long books, I and millions of others pined for Ron and Hermione to just kiss already, for goodness’ sake. When the fateful moment finally arrived in Deathly Hallows, I distinctly remember grinning ear to ear and feeling a sharp pang in my chest, as if were me who had finally gotten together with her soulmate.
Shipping has been around since long before Harry Potter, though, and continues to thrive now that it’s ended. Almost every popular book series, TV show, and movie has at least one pairing that fans just can’t help but ship – some classic ships include Percy and Annabeth from the Percy Jackson book series, Sherlock and Watson from BBC’s Sherlock, Mulder and Scully from The X-Files, and Steve and Bucky from the Marvel film franchise. And when I set out to write my third novel, I Was Born for This, which focuses on a teenage fangirl of a boyband, I knew I had to incorporate shipping, since it has always been such an important part of fandom.
In I Was Born for This, Angel is a fangirl of a boyband called The Ark, and she passionately ships two of its members. Being part of the fandom brings her into a community of like-minded people online; people she can chat with every day and share her passions with in a way she can’t in real life. She meets her best friend through the fandom and finds unlimited joy in talking about The Ark with her. And a big part of this is “Jowan,” her favorite ship.
In many ways and like many others, shipping Jowan brings Angel a great deal of happiness. When asked why she ships Jowan, Angel responds, “They make me feel like love exists.” The idea of this relationship – whether it is real or not – brings Angel hope for her own life. It encourages her to believe that she too may find the love of her life; or even if she doesn’t, the world is still a wondrous place because there are two people out there who love each other deeply.
Isn’t that why we enjoy shipping, after all? Because it feels like a reminder that love stories are everywhere?
However, shipping Jowan has its negative effects too. Angel becomes so obsessed with Jowan and The Ark that she starts to neglect everything else in her life – her friends, her family, and even her feelings of self-worth. I Was Born for This also explores the impact of real-person-shipping on the people involved – in this case, the band members, Jimmy and Rowan. The fact that people ship them interferes with their friendship and with their whole band dynamic, and it deeply irritates them that many fans care more for a ship than for their music. While shipping characters is generally harmless, shipping real people can come with consequences.
And yet people can’t help but ship when they see two characters with chemistry. I’ve certainly been fascinated seeing people ship unlikely pairings in my own novels – characters I’d never have thought to pair together myself.
While it would be easy to write shippers off for being ridiculous, soppy, or even immature, I choose to believe that shipping is a sign of humanity’s desire to believe in love and to read and write love stories again and again. It’s passion, hope, and optimism all bundled into one. To me, that feels like a beautiful thing.