Disclaimer: I received a copy of this from Quirk Books in exchange for an honest review.
Much like Arthur Dent's Hitchhiker's Guide that insists all you really need is a towel to get by, Sam Magg's "Fangirl's Guide to the Galaxy" sets out to be "the ultimate handbook for ladies living the nerdy life." Clocking in a two hundred and seven pages there's a very diverse subject matter to be covered by a very short volume. And begs the question, just what kind of a guide will it be? Will it work as a manifesto to celebrate all things nerdy? A glossary of things you never thought to google or read an F.A.Q for? A recommendation list of new geek things to try based on your tried and true interests?
The answer is it's a little bit of everything, but spreads itself thin so it's not really substantive to any of them in a way that makes it worthwhile.
Good stuff first: the cover and illustrations have a playful charm to them. Kelly Bastow's pictures were cute and more of them would have probably delivered a better playfulness the narration was trying for. And some might argue goes against the handbook idea, but it seemed mostly trying to engage through entertainment rather than information.
Narration-wise, Maggs clearly has spent a lot of time in the various ares of nerddom, and it never sounds forced or insincere when she drops a random aside in her guidebook. And while I may personally disagree with some of her opinions* I can't fault her enthusiasm. The section where she got other professional nerd ladies to give their opinions on the phenomenon was exactly the kind of thing I wanted more out of the book. Sometimes the best guides are the ones that have people who have gone down that path just talking about their journey, and I think the tone of the guide lent itself more to that style than straight informative. At it's best of enthusiastic and informative were her rundowns of several fandoms that have strong female characters and appealing themes for their fangirls. If the guide was 60% that and 40% the other things she mentioned, I would have loved it a lot more.
The weaker parts of the guide tended to fall in how the information was presented. While chapters were separated out for different things, such as cosplay or con-going getting their own self-contained chapters, there was a heavy emphasis on consumerism as fandom. Fandoms were presented by accessories instead of actions, and only one of the fangirl activities ostensibly was something without a lot of expendable cash could do: writing fanfiction (drawing fanart was mentioned but not really touched upon). There was a section on critical reviewing of fandoms, but it seemed a little divorced in tone from the rest of the book.
In general, the taxonomy of fandoms is very uneven. Some of the big ones, such as Harry Potter and Star Trek, are given their (deserved) sections, while others are shoved into a conglomeration. For example, Marvel and DC are given distinct fandoms, but all of Japanese animation is shoved into the otaku section. Another aside, while the author acknowledges that otaku is not a polite term in Japanese, saying it's somehow not as bad in the Western world (like saying obsessed is better than zealot) doesn't mean you should use it. The weirdest one is Superwholock being listed instead of the separate fandoms of Supernatural, Dr Who and Sherlock, in spite of the fact that there are many fans who support their canon show only and dislike this mega fandom crossover. It makes the choices seem very arbitrary and not designated by any observable reasons.
The terminology is basically Tumblr-speak, and even the author seems to know how terribly dated it would become when writing the glossary. It's written in the vernacular of someone who fangirls on Tumblr, including a Tumblr-version on Feminism 101, which gives it an authenticity, but may not speak to the tabletop nerd who really just wants to go to Dragon*Con and not talk about her feels. For people likely to get into Tumblr, this is one of those first hand sources that might pique their interest.
The main complication I have with this book is determining who it's for. It's not a good guide to give a fledgling nerd, with too many inside jokes and not enough concrete information except for the lists of outside resources. The fandoms listed are mostly presented as how the fans display their interests, which makes it unhelpful for recommendations except for the small section on the back, which was one of the best parts of the guides. Likewise it's not quite funny or detailed enough to give to a nerd who may have one or two interests represented in the handbook.
And the biggest intended audience hurdle: the age range seems all over the place. Harry Potter and YA novels do have adult fans, but the majority of their targeted fans are tweens and teens. At the same time, there's a lot of assumptions that these geeks have transportation and money for cons, can get tattoos, can drink at a bar, and generally the guide seems to be directed at someone with an adult's access but a younger person's sensibilities. That leaves it coming off as condescending at times, going over really obvious points like how friendships work or why you should probably not get a tattoo on a whim.
In short: there's obvious love behind this guide and it might be just the spark to give to a fangirl looking to explore the wide world of geeky media. However, there's an uneven aspect to it that prevents this guide from wider appeal, so you should probably ask yourself would they enjoy Tumblr? If yes, give it a try. If no, skip it.
*In pure nerd fashion, the pedantic, personal nitpicking not part of the review.
Opinions disagreed with in the book contain, but are not limited to: DC's nu52 being a good starting point for anything and not a messy soft reboot they're retconning again because it's a giant mess (Batwoman's good though). Star Trek 09 being a good starting point and not some flashy but substance lacking re-imagining, also the sequel sucks. Superwholock in general and any shipping related to it. "I'm the Doctor, not a companion" but maybe they want to be one of the companions. Donna Noble > all. Not to mention putting down one female fandom (Twilight) for another (Buffy)...even if I personally concur, a feminism manifesto about how all are welcome is the wrong place for that. Ramona Flowers has most definitely worked out, she is a goddam delivery girl who runs all over for her job and can kick ninja ass. You put Attack on Titan but not Utena for anime? I WILL FIGHT YOU!