Book Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

It’s not that boys haven’t always on Cath’s mind. It’s just that this is the first time they’ve existed outside the realm of Simon Snow and the Mages and in the real world. FANGIRL is a sweet, funny coming-of-age story of fanfiction, family, and first love.
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The Book Jacket Blurb

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan . . .

But for Cath, being a fan is her life — and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?

Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

The Author

Rainbow Rowell is the author of ATTACHMENTS. She has two novels coming out in 2013 —  ELEANOR & PARK in February and FANGIRL in the fall.

Rainbow lives with her husband and two sons in Omaha, Nebraska. Right at this moment, she is probably arguing with someone about something that doesn’t really matter in the big scheme of things—or trying to figure out how Sherlock faked his death.

Blog and other stuff at rainbowrowell.com

The Review

I started FANGIRL Friday afternoon as an audiobook, thinking that it would last me a week. Wrong. I read it on my laptop when I was supposed to be reading slush, and I read it on my phone in between bands at Point Fest on Friday, finishing it while curled up in the backseat of my friend’s Prius as we dragged ourselves back home through sketchy neighborhoods at 2 o’clock in the morning. I couldn’t put it down, and when I wasn’t reading, I couldn’t stop thinking about Cath and Levy and Reagan and Wren.

Truth be told, though, I was a little leery about posting this review. Not because I didn’t love the book, but because expressing my love for it is so closely tied to the fact that reading Cath’s story was like at my reflection. And at times, the face looking back wasn’t pretty. It was like looking into the mirror expecting to see the parts of yourself you like smiling back and instead realizing that—to the rest of the world—that smile really looks like this:

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And yet that’s part of the reason I books like this. As a bookworm, I’ve always looked to books as both examples on “how to be” and a refuge when I want to escape from the real world, and FANGIRL (sometimes not-so-) gently points out that that is OK as long as you remember to keep a foot in real life and live, too. I sometimes forget this. FANGIRL, while not set in high school, is perfect for young adult readers because it offers both reassurance and romance, encouragement and intrigue as to what will happen next.

The Good

Rainbow Rowell’s writing captures life and people with such pinpoint accuracy, breathing life into mundane everyday moments, voicing the thoughts in our head that make us feel alone. So many times while reading, I felt as though she was writing to me; not just to readers; but me, Whitley.  Her words are powerful yet familiar, as though she knew you and you knew the characters before ever stepping into the first page.

I love Cath.  She’s torch bearer of every awkward turtle introvert flailing their way through the social life they don’t understand (and won’t admit that they don’t always want). She’s frustrating, yes, but every frustration I had with her was one that I’ve experienced with myself. Her anxiety and overthinking and self-deprecation are so realistic that the reader feels reflected in Cath’s struggles and grows with her throughout the story. There’s been a lot of attention lately to the traits and strengths of an introvert in the extrovert world, but it’s rare to see the main character remain an introvert… and to see her and her supporting cast accept and embrace that instead of joining the author in a quest to change her. I love YA, but it can be frustrating to see the truth of yourself belittled instead of embraced, and as a reader, a fictional story I can fall into is a much more powerful source of acceptance and empowerment and feeling not-so-alone than a Buzzfeed article, or even a non-fiction self-help book.

And man oh man do I love Cath’s supporting cast. Her relationship with her twin sister, Wren, personifies the person we introverts think we should (and struggle to) be:independent from the close friends we made as kids, happily active in the social scene. Cath struggles through the book with this sudden differentiation between herself and Wren when they enter college, and a major part of her growth as a character is through her acceptance that it’s OK to be different from her sister and to chose to say “no” to parties instead of “yes”.

Reagan, perfectly described as Adele, “if Adele had a harder, somewhat sharper twin sister”, is just about as boisterous as they come. She’s also is the best thing that could have happened to Cath because she doesn’t take any of Cath’s excuses, but she also knows not to push Cath. Her friendship and guidance were exactly what Cath needed at this time in her life, and I loved her character. While the fact that she previously dated Levy is a major complication in the story, it is also  a perfect opportunity for Cath to stop comparing herself to others, and for that reason, I love the ground rules that Reagan imposes when Cath begins to show interest in Levy.

Ahh, Levy. We’ve come to my favorite part of the story (and my literary crush).  What isn’t there to love about Levy? He’s cute (but not too cute); he’s goofy; he’s flawed (and have I mentioned how much I love, love, LOVE flawed characters?). What makes Levy so perfect in his imperfections is that he nudges without being pushy, he genuinely cares about Cath without claiming she’s perfect (because really, who is?), and he seems to understand Cath enough to allow her to take things in her own time. Not to mention the fact that he actively takes interest in her interests, helping her to boost her confidence, rather than laughing at them… and I mean, really, slash Harry Potter-esque fanfiction is a little hard not to balk at. Yes, the romance was formulaic once it took off, but it was also completely swoon-worthy and the whole reason I couldn’t put the book down.

The Bad

I couldn’t find anything to dislike about FANGIRL, but if I could have changed one thing, it would have been the ending. The conclusion was so embedded in Cath’s fanfiction and the final book of the Simon Snow series that real final moment felt lost. I think I understand why Rowell chose to end the book the way she did. Cath’s attachment to the series and the fandom is all based around the idea that as a reader, we don’t want the story to end. So Rowell didn’t end it. Instead, she let both Cath and the reader slip further into the story. Even so, there were so many questions left unanswered and issues, unresolved, that when I “turned” the page to find nothing more, I was disappointed. More than anything, I didn’t want the story to end… I wanted more.

The Bold and the Beautiful

“In new situations, all the trickiest rules are the ones nobody bothers to explain to you. (And the ones you can’t Google.)”  

“Months are different in college, especially freshman year. Too much happens. Every freshman month equals six regular months—they’re like dog months.”  

“The squirrels on campus were beyond domestic; they were practically domestically abusive.”  — I feel like I had this conversation at Millikin a million times.

“Happily ever after, or even just together ever after, is not cheesy,” Wren said. “It’s the noblest, like, the most courageous thing two people can shoot for.”  

“Sometimes writing is running downhill, your fingers jerking behind you on the keyboard the way your legs do when they can’t quite keep up with gravity.”  

“If I ever become a supervillian, help me come up with a name that doesn’t sound like an ice cream sundae.”

The Grade

5.0 / 5.0

5 stars

I can’t recommend this book enough. If you’ve ever been part of a fandom (or even a lurker on FF.net), were the socially “awkward turtle” at some point in your life, or liked Eleanor & Park or Sarah Dessen’s coming-of-age stories with the perfect mix of romance, then you’ll love Rainbow Rowell’s FANGIRL.

Of course, there will be readers who will roll their eyes at the idea of fandom and Cath’s introversion and nerdiness (long live the NerdFighters!), but to them I say:

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To the rest of you, I say, “READ THIS BOOK!”

One thought on “Book Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

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