” I might be a disappointing student, without many close friends, with a life of mediocrity waiting for me back home – but I will always have this.
In an otherwise mediocre life, we choose to feel passion ”
Alice Oseman is one of the greatest writers of our time. Big claim, but nonetheless true. Both Solitaire and Radio Silence managed to hit me in ways I hadn’t expected to be hit and yet so subtly. Prepare for a film reference now: her work reminds me of the Cornetto Trilogy co-written by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, who once described their films as having “a Trojan horse element” in the sense that each one has an honesty and relatability hidden in them. Do you see where I’m going here? Alice’s novels have this same element; you go in expecting a YA mystery, a podcast-based adventure, a boy-band book, but by the time you’ve finished you’re sobbing.
So what this long-winded introduction is trying to say is that I was very excited for this book, and it truly did not disappoint!
What’s it 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.”
It doesn’t take many pages for you to realise that I Was Born For This (or IWBFT) is a little bit different from Alice’s earlier works – the time setting is much shorter, spanning the lives of Angel and Jimmy over one week, and being the first dual narrative of her books. But similarly, it doesn’t take many to spot all the well-loved traits that tell you this is her writing. Opening on Angel’s first real-life meeting with her internet friend Juliet, a scene many of us nowadays can relate to, the realism is so clear with the mixture of awkwardness, familiarity, and self-doubt. The way IWBFT explores what ‘internet friendships’ are is so interesting and something I rarely read about, and I think it’s important to show how these friendships mean as much as real-life friendships do. In fact, the way friendship is looked at in its many forms is incredibly well done. Particularly those between Jimmy and the other members of The Ark; showing guys sharing their feelings over a cup of tea is so normal yet strange to many people, so I just love the presentation of their relationships.
Fandom obviously plays one of the largest roles in the novel but over the course of the story, the angle that’s taken on it is almost psychoanalytical in the way it looks at why people choose to like what they do, why some people go further than others in their passions. Not only is this relatable – who hasn’t fallen in love with a band or a singer or an actor? – but it’s also so fascinating. Angel is such a well-developed character despite her own insecurities; her arguably toxic adoration for The Ark seems to rule her life and is written with a gentle hand, whilst Jimmy’s opposing view on fandoms as the one on the receiving end shows the consequences that can occur and the struggle that takes place to hold on to normality without seeming ungrateful.
As I mentioned, the realism of Alice’s writing is always the stand-out for me and it’s no more evident than within the characters and the diversity of them. The two protagonists include a Muslim Hijabi girl and a Christian mixed-race transgender boy, and those surrounding them include other mixed-race characters, characters from various classes, characters with various sexualities, characters with different family backgrounds, and characters who suffer from mental health disorders. All of which is important to read about and even though you might not be able to apply yourself to some of their experiences, you’ll find something in each of them that you can relate to. Every character has their own strengths and weaknesses, these flawed characters are real and so it’s difficult not to find yourself emotionally invested in them – throughout most of the book I just wanted to give Jimmy a hug, I felt like he could use one!
Though the book is really driven by its characters, I found the plot gripping. So often situations would be set up only for you to be totally thrown when everything goes wrong or nothing turns out as you had expected. I was lucky enough to have read a preview of the book on NetGalley, and I hate Kindles and digital books, I can never read them. But I still finished IWBFT in two days. The need to find out what happened next and how the characters would deal with it partnered with Alice’s incredibly readable style meant I whizzed through it. I just love the subtly of her writing, throwing into dialogue things like this:
” ‘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. Double-whammy. “
If you’re a (UK)YA fan or a fan of Alice’s other books then you are going to love I Was Born For This. If you’re not a YA reader I would still recommend this read; it explores some really interesting themes and challenges some of your ideas about what it is to be a fan and a friend.