In part of this post she also references Dr. Ebony Thomas wonderful text, the Dark Fantastic. I have been reading it and Wow. for many years now, when I want to think more clearly about African American writers or about questions of race in general, I have turned to Toni Morrison's Playing in the Dark for inspiration and to stifle any or all impulses of my white privilege. (This is especially poignant since I am prepping this post on Aug. 6, 2019, the day of Morrison's death.) I won't ignore Morrison, but I will be adding Thomas's work to my list of touchstone texts. Thanks Margaret, this is another wonderful post for us to think about.
Fandom Literature: A New Sub-Genre of Young Adult Literature
Margaret A. Robbins, PhD
I believe fandom can build a sense of community through online and affinity spaces (Gee, 2004) and in-person fandom gatherings alike, a reoccurring theme in many of the books I describe below. For instance, in Ms. Marvel Volume One: No Normal, the main protagonist Kamala Khan (also the new Ms. Marvel superhero) shows a passion for writing fanfiction about Carol Danvers, her superhero predecessor and mentor. Both years I have taught this book so far, either before or after reading the comic, I have the students write a fanfiction story about a topic of their interest, as connected to building community through story. One year, they also wrote an expository essay about this chosen fandom to view it from the perspective of a different genre of writing.
Perhaps if students can learn which interests bring us as human beings together, we can learn to have more empathy for people who have different religious, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Much of what brings us together as human beings is stories, and the digital world has increased the possibility for us to connect through story. Ebony Elizabeth Thomas (2016) notes that today’s adolescents and young adults “engage in textual and visual production that is collaborative, shared in what has been characterized as environments of digital intimacy” and grow in the sharing of their texts and ideas through “affinity spaces and networked publics” (p. 3). I have learned through my own involvement in fandom communities that there is more that bonds people into communities than what divides us. I hope over time, I can continue to encourage students to form their own literary and creative fandom communities, both in such in-school spaces as a fandom club and fanfiction stories and in out of school spaces that carry over from the exposure in school.
As fandom interests become more mainstream, there has been an increase in books about this topic for teenagers and adults alike. Since I consider myself an “acafan” with both an academic and a personal interest in fandom, I have read several of these novels recently and wanted to make recommendations for teachers, librarians, and literacy scholars. Some of the books listed below include characters of color, LGBTQ+ characters, and/or non-Christian characters. Specifically, Ship It, Geekerella, The Princess and the Fangirl, Ms. Marvel: No Normal, Princess X, The Pros of Cons, and Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here include diverse characters, and Fangirl addresses neurodiversity by including a character with mental health issues. However, I would be remiss not to note that the representation of characters of color in YA books about fandom seems, overall, to be lacking.
Thomas elaborates in the monograph to show many examples where the female protagonist of color is either a sidekick figure or a “dark other,” but not the primary hero. Although stories of women of color taking the forefront are becoming more common in YA literature and media, the number is still largely disproportionate. Ms. Marvel: No Normal, Princess X, Ship It, and Geekerella are particularly important to this genre because they include primary characters of color. It is my hope that representation will continue to increase both in fandom spaces and in the books that describe them.
In addition to the books on this list, there are many others, which can be found on this Goodreads list. But these are some recent ones that I have found engaging. I belong to the DragonCon YA Literature Track online book club and thank them for several of these great recommendations, along with my author friend Lauren Karcz.
Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia:
This is actually my “current read,” and I’m really enjoying it. Eliza is an introvert who loves to work on her webcomic and to dialogue with her online friends. Online, she’s a hit. But at school, she has trouble fitting in with her peers and taking an interest in her classes. She has a new friend who has bonded with her over fanfiction and overcoming bullies. But will her secret life come to surface? This book is a great look at a creative high school student who benefits from the online world of fandom and also has to deal with some of its drawbacks. It also shows how online affinity spaces (Gee, 2004) have changed the way people interact with each other and also how they serve to open up avenues for artistic feedback.
Scarlett Epstein Hates it Here by Anna Breslaw:
I loved this book because the protagonist reminded me of myself at this age. She’s snarky but also very protective of the people she cares about and is a “floater” socially, but one who gets close to a smaller number of people who fully understand her quirkiness. I also appreciate how this book has a positive representation of a Jewish high school student who is from a single parent working class family. Scarlett has a keen interest in fanfiction and finds comfort in these online forums when her favorite TV show gets cancelled. However, the more her “real life” and her online life collide, the more potential there is for conflict. This book is a great homage to fanfiction and also helps to teach teens about the importance of monitoring what you post online.
Geekerella and The Princess and the Fangirl (Once Upon a Con series) by Ashley Poshton:
Both of these novels are fairy tale retellings, another YA genre that I adore. Geekerella is a modern-day telling of Cinderella, and The Princess and the Fangirl is a retelling of the Prince and the Pauper. The books take place at the same Con and have some overlapping characters, but different main characters of focus. Both do a great job of showing both the positive and the dark sides of fandom and how modern-day young romance is different from the fairy tales. They are heartwarming and fun books that give people insight into fandom culture and great for discussing how female representation in romance and fairy tales has evolved and changed over time.
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell:
This book is a cross between young adult and new adult, as the protagonist is college age. Cath has a keen interest in writing, especially fanfiction. Her fanfiction story about Simon Snow is the basis for the Rainbow Rowell novel spinoff Carry On, which has a sequel coming out this fall. Cath deals with young romance, family issues, and mental health in a very honest fashion, while trying to adjust to college life. I love everything that this author writes and highly recommend this book.
Ms. Marvel Volume 1 by G. Willow Wilson:
Fanfiction is a secondary theme in this graphic novel, but I still wanted to include it because I teach it every year and include a before or after assignment related to fanfiction. An overarching theme in my class and also in our immigration unit is belonging. Kamala, as a second generation American and a sixteen-year-old Pakistani-American girl, finds a sense of belonging in part because of her connection to geek culture. She is a fan of Captain Marvel and Avengers fanfiction and writes some of it herself. Kamala’s mother struggles to understand her connection to fanfiction, yet it helps improve her writing skills and also helps her to connect to others.
The Pros of Cons by Alison Cherry, Lindsay Ribar, and Michelle Schusterman:
Imagine a Popular Culture Convention, a taxidermy conference, and a band competition all in the same hotel? Well, that is The Pros of Cons for you. Told from three different alternating perspectives, we hear about this eventful weekend from the perspective of band nerd Phoebe, fanfiction writer Vanessa, and taxidermy assistant Callie. The book paints a picture of the different faces of fandom, along with family relationships and first crushes/first love. I read it right after DragonCon 2018, and it helped cure my longing for this magical place.
Don’t Cosplay with my Heart by Cecil Castellucci:
This book is one of my more recent reads with the DragonCon YA Literature Track online book club. Edan Kupferman has a lot going on at home, as her dad is potentially in legal trouble and her mother has accordingly checked out. The only steady aspects of her life are her lesbian best friend Kasumi, her strong willed doctor grandmother, and her connections to fandom. When Edan puts on her Gargantua superhero costume from her favorite comic, she feels like she can be a stronger version of herself. Together, Kasumi and Edan form a fandom club at school and help each other to navigate confusing romantic situations. Edan’s story is told interspersed with Gargantua’s feminist superhero stories. This book is a great look at both the positive and the dark sides of fandom culture and also the rise of empowered female superheroes.
Ship It by Britta Lundin:
Claire is a fanfiction writer from a small town who is obsessed with the television series Demon Heart. After a Q and A session at a smaller Con goes terribly wrong, Claire gets invited to go on a Demon Heart tour of popular culture conventions with the cast. She then meets Tess, a homoromantic pansexual who seems very drawn to Claire. Fanfiction writer Claire and fanartist Tess bond over their creative interests.Over time, Claire and the Demon Heart lead actor Forrest both question some of their assumptions about sexuality. The definitions of LGBTQIA are evolving, and this book does a fabulous job of addressing different understandings of sexual orientation and why being open minded is so important. Former Riverdale screenwriter Britta Lundin has created a heartwarming story for the ages.
The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga:
This book was actually in my ALAN box several years ago, and I was lucky enough to get to meet the author at this fabulous NCTE workshop! Fanboy is an outcast at school, but he’s able to put his energy into a graphic novel that he is secretly writing. Through Goth Girl, he finally finds a friend who understands him. This is a solid story about overcoming bullying and bonding with others over unique interests.
Princess X by Cherie Priest:
Cherie Priest writes a number of speculative fiction novels, and this was her first YA novel. I was lucky enough to be on a panel with her for DragonCon about comics and graphic novels in YA literature. This book is interesting in part because parts of it are told in the form of a comic, so it’s a blend of a traditional novel and a graphic novel. The story is about two best friends Libby and May who create a comic together. Libby does the art, and May does the writing. Then, Libby and her mother abruptly disappear. Years later, May ends up in Seattle staying with her father for the summer and feels very lonely. She sees part of their old comic strip and realizes that Libby might be alive after all. With the help of a new friend, May works hard to solve the mystery of where Libby is and how she can get her best friend back.
Gee, J. P. (2004). Situated language and learning: A critique of traditional schooling.
New York, NY: Routledge.
Thomas, E. (2019). The Dark Fantastic. New York, NY: New York University Press.