I picked this up from the library after seeing it was a Forever Young Adult Book Club pick for July. I knew Rainbow Rowell was a YA author with all the buzz around Eleanor & Park (which is on my TBR list), so I was happy to dive into Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.
The premise is a coming-of-age story when twin sisters move out to go to college. Our main protagonist, Cath, is a huge Simon Snow fan (think Harry Potter) and is hesitant to leave her childhood—and Simon Snow—behind. Whereas her sister, Wren, is happy to dive into college life, albeit in a stereotypical binge-drinking stupor.
When I first started reading I was rolling my eyes with all the predictable and stereotypical ‘off to college’ type situations. But I was quickly proven wrong—which I’m so glad for.
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 fanfiction, 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 fanfiction 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?
From the publisher, St. Martin’s Press (distributed by Raincoast Books in Canada).
Fair warning: Spoilers below. Nothing too crazy/shocking, but if you haven’t read Fangirl, it does more than foreshadow.
Even by the end, I felt conflicted about Cath’s character. On one hand, I completely identified with her: I also had no interest in the stereotypical college experience of underage/binge drinking and spent most of my teenage years immersed in fandom (including trying my hand at fanfiction too). However, other aspects of Cath’s character make no sense: she spent the first few months living on energy bars because she was too nervous/scared to find the cafeteria, and yet she can excel at an upper-level writing class.This isn’t to say that her character is completely lopsided, I think the fear of change is incredibly apt and very well-written in Fangirl. As well, her lack of socialization skills was described in recall to high school—you invited Wren to a party, you got Cath too—and definitely fit with Cath’s approach to her roommate Reagan and (boy)friend Levi.
As for the fanfiction—it’s not just fanfiction, it’s slashfic, which means a queer(gay/lesbian) fan story. So imagine if someone wrote a story about Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy falling in love, despite the fact that they start off as enemies. That’s what Cath writes for Simon Snow and his arch-enemy Baz. The novel is interspersed with snippets of Cath’s fanfiction as well as the ‘original’ Simon Snow books. Cath’s character growth and growth as a writer is paralleled in these snippets.
Rainbow Rowell certainly has a gift with adolescent voice, even if some of the characterizations were a little far-fetched. The exchanges between Reagan and Cath were pitch perfect, with Cath being shy and meek, but not too much of a pushover, and Reagan not taking any shit. I also was left grinning when reading Cath’s reflections on Levi. The scene where they’re reading The Outsiders was an exact copy of many teenage first-kisses. But I also really appreciated that although Levi was incredibly likeable (and made you really root for him) he wasn’t completely infallible. This gave him more of the three-dimensional character, whereas Reagan stayed fairly two-dimensional (although vital). Wren was another two-dimensional character in the novel, which felt a little off; her first semester in college was predictable and stereotypical, with a positive ending tied neatly in a bow. I think the scenes with their dad were excellent; a respectful and unstigmatized view of mental health issues, even if it was a little under-developed.
Overall, the novel was great. I really loved reading Fangirl because Rowell has the voices of these young adults (teens and early 20s) spot on. There is a balance in their narrative voice as well as choices that are both predictable and uncharacteristic. For example, Cath has said no to every party invitation from Reagan and Levi, but after the first kiss with Levi, she spontaneously accepts an invite. The adrenaline rush from a teenage kiss would definitely propel a girl like Cath outside her regular comfort zone. I highly recommend Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell if you need some feel-good YA fiction that leaves you with a stupid smile on your face.