Jilly Gagnon’s new novel #famous is a story of its time. What happens if someone posts a picture online and it goes viral? Rachel and Kyle both have very different experiences with the situation as the novel takes them on a journey of self-discovery and acceptance.
“The direct inspiration for #famous was the #AlexfromTarget story. Not sure if you remember it, but a girl took a picture of this 16-year-old boy, Alex, while he was working a register at his Target job, because she thought he was cute. She posted it online and it exploded overnight!”
The idea of “instantaneous fame fascinated me, as did the fact of how quickly – and often anonymously – notoriety plays out online today. In #famous, you get to see both sides of the coin–how overnight stardom affects Kyle, the subject of the insta-famous photo, and also how it affects Rachel, the girl who snapped it. Unsurprisingly, it’s not equally rosy for the two of them.”
As we all know, the internet can be a very unfriendly place, especially for someone with body image issues, and Gagnon tackles that side of the web head-on with Rachel, the girl who posted the picture, getting comments ranging from the ugly body-shaming to the truly terrible death threats.
“When the photo goes viral, Rachel immediately becomes a target for cruelty, much of it from people who know absolutely nothing about her (like, say, her last name). It’s so easy to forget, especially on social media, that there are real people on the other side of every one of those tiny avatars.”
With the focus on the real people behind the egg pictures on Twitter, the readers (and Gagnon’s characters themselves) are often reminded of the importance of thinking about how our behaviour affects others, and how people see others and themselves.
“Who you are isn’t as simple as the first thing people see, or any single judgment they pass on you. Kyle’s more than a popular jock, and Rachel’s creativity and unique personality sometimes lead her to judge books by their covers, and to put up walls to keep the world out.”
It’s important to remember that the world doesn’t dictate who you should be: just because others might see you one way, doesn’t mean that’s who you are.
“I think one of the most important themes in this book, and possibly in everything I write, is how different the person the world sees is from the person we feel ourselves to be, and in a fundamental way, really are.
“Being yourself is about more than just the things you like or the group you fit into, it’s about celebrating all the weird, quirky, seemingly-out-of-place elements of your personality, and seeing that same multifaceted nature in the people around you.”
Gagnon explores that fully by deconstructing the jock stereotype that is so common in YA books.
“Kyle’s absolutely a jock, but that’s just one facet of his personality. Liking sports doesn’t determine the kind of person you are any more than liking books or cats or cheesecake! The book is all about how mistaken people are to judge one another by just one simplified idea or image; Kyle’s the perfect embodiment of that.
“On the outside, Kyle is breezing through high school – he’s a popular athlete with a solid future. But on the inside he feels pressured to follow in the footsteps of a brother who has always overshadowed him. He’s a little lost, unsure of who he is or wants to be, especially after instant fame forces him to examine himself a little more closely. Even if he looks like he has it all, the glamorous image the world sees feels really hollow.”