Guest blog post from Erin Dionne, author of Secrets of a Fangirl.
“Do it,” my husband said one night when we were sitting at our kitchen table. “Write about being a geeky girl.”
I frowned. I’d been playing with some other ideas, but they hadn’t gelled. This didn’t strike me as anything special, either. What would I even write about? My Harry Potter sneakers? The Star Wars quote engraved in our wedding bands?*
I tried to brush off his suggestion, but the notion wouldn’t leave me. Over the next few days, I kept thinking about it, and thinking about what it meant to be a “geek girl.”
Growing up, I was really into Star Wars. I loved Princess Leia, but my favorite characters were the cocky, morally gray Han Solo and his furry sidekick, Chewbacca. I loved the story of good vs. evil, of underdogs taking down an oppressive regime, of how someone so small and unassuming as Yoda could be the most powerful Jedi in the galaxy.
I loved all of those things partly because between third and fourth grades my family moved to a new state. My friends obviously didn’t move with me, but the stories I loved did. They became a refuge as I navigated new social groups, school, and teachers, but they also made me a target, because girls weren’t “supposed to” like Star Wars. So I packed my love for the movies—and my action figures—away for a while, pretended to be someone else, and lost a little of myself in the process.
When I started developing Secrets of a Fangirl, I reached out to the college students I currently teach, asking them about their fandom and con culture. They shared with me how their fandoms also let them escape, how much they got out of the stories and worlds that those creators developed—and how, sometimes, people gave them a hard time for the thing that they loved. And that was when I knew what book I was writing.
Sarah Anne is a girl who hides what she loves to impress people that she isn’t sure she actually likes. Her journey also includes discovering that sexist notions of what girls can and can’t do/like/be are very real and reach us at young ages.
Sarah Anne has to confront her own biases, too: her science partner, the boy everyone teases for being a geek/dork, has interesting things to say and is very outwardly into the same fandom as Sarah Anne. Hugh, the science partner, also learns not to judge Sarah Anne. He assumes she’s not good at science (she kills at it), and parrots what his older brother says about girls’ abilities.
This novel explores the strength that it takes to embrace our real selves—to love what we love and trust that the right people will gravitate to our true nature. It also explores the discovery that denying who we are damages not only ourselves, but others around us.
My hope is that readers who feel out of step because the thing that they’re into is “weird”, or the way they see the world is different, can find comfort in Sarah Anne’s story. And the ones who give other kids a hard time because the thing they like isn’t “cool” can find respect for kids who put themselves out there.
As for me? I proudly wear my Princess Leia t-shirt and Harry Potter sneakers. I’ve even been known to cosplay from time to time. I don’t hide away what I love for anyone, anymore.
*That Star Wars quote? It’s: “I love you.” “I know.” It’s from Empire Strikes Back.
Erin Dionne's own fangirl merchandise ready to be worn proudly