10:30 am EDT, July 4, 2016

‘The Fangirl Life’ book review: A fandom addict’s guide to real life

The Fangirl Life is for when fandom hurts. It'll both remind you why and how fandom can be wonderful, and give you tips on how to improve your offline life and productivity.

Kathleen Smith, licensed therapist, wants to guide you from anxious fangirl to ‘BAMF fanwoman.’ Does The Fangirl Life: A Guide to All the Feels and Learning How to Deal deliver?

Confession: I’m a big fan of DIY life improvement articles. From “Five steps to a de-cluttered desktop” and “How to increase your productivity today” to “The herbal tea that will literally transform you into Hayley Atwell,” I’ve got them all bookmarked — though I’ve procrastinated on reading most of them because I need to be in just the right mindset for the message to really sink through and change my life. Ya know?

…Just me? Anyway.

As a fandom lifer, I’ve pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I’ll still be shipping Ron/Hermione at age 85, and will probably still be writing for Hypable too, bitterly bemoaning the fact that the eighteenth Harry Potter stageplay just didn’t make me feel as many feels as Order of the Phoenix. So, when I found out that Kathleen Smith (a fellow The 100 fan and serial tweeter) was writing what looked to me like a handbook on how to be your best fangirl self, I was sold immediately.

About ‘The Fangirl Life’

The Fangirl Life: A Guide to All the Feels and Learning How to Deal is a delightful book for fangirls, by a fangirl (see what I did there?).

Fangirl Therapy‘s Kathleen Smith cuts the crap immediately, and gets real about the negative sides of being a fangirl — anxiety and depression, rage, and a potentially harmful disconnect from real life — while still appreciating the art of fangirling and the ways in which it helps us be more creative, intelligent, and well-rounded individuals.

Smith is truly one of us, gently nudging her fellow fangirls towards self-improvement through a combination of personal anecdotes, an excess of fandom namedrops, and legit therapy strategies like mindfulness. Her honest, down-to-earth perspective is both refreshing and comforting, especially if you have a tendency to go from one to 100 every time someone says The 100 (sorry).

This book won’t fix your life (just like the 30+ self-help articles I have yet to read because I don’t want to shatter the illusion that Lifehack Magic isn’t real), but it doesn’t promise to. The Fangirl Life is a safe space, acknowledging and legitimizing your ‘feels’ as something neither abnormal or embarrassing. It’s what you might call the first step in the right direction: It takes you by the hand and opens your eyes to the possibility that, however far into virtual reality you’ve fallen, you can take a cue from your favorite fictional females and claw your way out of the innermost cave of your life.

That was the cliffsnotes version. If you want to learn more, read on.

the fangirl life

‘The Fangirl Life’ book review

Part self-help book, part simple acknowledgment that your fangirl feels are perfectly normal, and part reminder not to be a jerk on the internet, The Fangirl Life is very directly targeting one particular audience — the audience that is, in Smith’s own words, “past the point of extreme crey.”

If this book had reached me in my late teens — when I was neck-deep in the Lost fandom and shipping Jack/Kate so hard it hurt — it probably would have changed my life. I still remember the deep, dark pit of depression when Kate and Sawyer slept together, and the thrill of euphoria after “Something Nice Back Home.” I spent my life on message boards, reading fanfic, making up songs (hey, we all have a thing) and hating myself because of the very real possibility that I’d been reading the show wrong all along, that Jate wasn’t Fate at all, that I’d been seeing something that wasn’t really there. And, most distressingly, I felt like I was the most pitiable loser on the planet for caring so much about the happiness of fictional characters.

I don’t feel like that anymore. One might say I clawed myself out of my cave and transformed my obsessive fangirling into something positive, but it took a lot longer than it maybe should have. But because of this sordid fangirl past, I can confidently say that Kathleen Smith, having been there herself and having gone through probably a very similar experience, just gets it. Her book is a concrete testament that ‘it gets better’ for those fans for whom shipping/general fandom obsessing feels like their whole life.

So if that’s you — if you care too much, feel too much, and suffer from even a modicum of the anxiety and depression that plague the fandom community at large, this book is very much for you.

So I’m an anxious fangirl, now what?

“If you’re operating defensively, rejecting others’ opinions, and stirring up conflict, then you should expect to be anxious,” writes Smith towards the beginning of the book, identifying that the fangirl — so often in a state of heightened emotion and assuming the defensive position when her show/ship/favorite character is challenged — is likely walking around with a big, heavy weight in her stomach IRL. That’s called anxiety, and if you’re reading this right now, as a fangirl on the internet, there’s a good change you’ve experienced it too.

The Fangirl Life very matter-of-factly correlates obsessive fangirling with anxiety, framing fandom as an addiction, and directly addressing the fans for whom it’s proving hard to shake.

Using fangirl lingo and shoehorning in almost every fandom you can think of, Smith offers to hold the hand of the Stucky shipper who has fallen too far, or the SwanQueen shipper whose stomach hurts every time she thinks about OUAT.

The book offers little exercises to help you acknowledge the problem (the first step), and tips on how to draw inspiration from the fictional characters you admire. As I said earlier: No book or article can immediately fix your life and/or transform you into Hayley Atwell, but The Fangirl Life does its damndest to send you on your own path of self-improvement. It’s an exploration of the dark side of fangirling, with gentle nudging towards small techniques like mindfulness and technology time-outs that might help you break your addiction.

The Fangirl Life offers its reader strategies for becoming a strong female character in the story of her own life, while providing some (for me) much-needed reminders that arguing on the internet will lead to nothing good. My favorite section comes towards the end, when Smith lists a number of ways to increase productivity — because, despite all my self-improvement, I’m still that fangirl whose ‘PIU’ (problematic internet usage) keeps me from concentrating on anything for more than five minutes at a time.

This book is for you, the fangirl, who already knows everything there is to know about the celebrity, show, ship or character she stans. It’s for you if, “you feel like your obsessions are keeping you from the life you want.” And from there, this book just might just be the nudge you need in the right direction.

Full of fandom references, anecdotes and advice, The Fangirl Life is like a little fandom friend in your pocket, comforting you and reminding you that you’re not alone.

Kathleen Smith is a licensed therapist and mental health journalist, and also runs Fangirl Therapy. The Fangirl Life is available for pre-order, and hits stores July 5, 2016. It is published by Penguin Random House.

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