Publisher: St Martin's Press.
Hardcover, 448 pages.
Release date: September 10th 2013.
Rating: 3½ out of 5.
In Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl, 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? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?
Twin sisters Cath and Wren - Magicath and Wrenegade to the online legions who read their Harry-Potter-alike Simon Snow fan fiction – have always operated as two sides of the same coin. Painfully shy Cath is a homebody who likes to stay in and write, while Wren, well, she likes to party hard. The girls share a name split in two – it was seemingly beyond their absent mother’s capabilities to think of second name when she discovered she was pregnant with twins – but now, with the advent of college, the girls’ lives are diverging too. Wren has moved on from her fan fiction past, and it looks as though she’s also moving on from Cath; informing her sister that she doesn’t want to room together at college. It’s up to Cath to navigate this scary new world on her own; and as she meets her exuberant roommate Reagan, Reagan’s always-hanging-around close friend and maybe-boyfriend Levi ‘of the receding hairline’ and tries to figure out just where on earth the cafeteria is, Cath decides it might just be easier to snack up on protein bars and lose herself in her fan fiction world.
But life has other things in store for Cath…
Rainbow Rowell had quite a year in 2013. Eleanor and Park and Fangirl received numerous awards, starred reviews aplenty and I’m pretty sure both of those books appeared on the ‘2013 Best Of’ lists of practically every blogger I know. It’s taken me a while to get around to reading Rowell – I am generally wary of the kind of hype that surrounds these books – and while I was impressed in part by Fangirl, and in particular the depth of Rowell’s characterizations and her use of dialogue, I can’t say I was bowled over by this book to the same extent as so many others.
First off, I like that Rowell grounds her characters in realism, I do. There are no perfect size zero blondes here, no dark and brooding bad boys either. And isn’t that refreshing? Well, yes it is. The problem is, while the characters in this book are realistic, some of them, just as in real life, really are an acquired taste. I thought I would find more to identify with in the two sisters. Cath is shy, she’s insecure and socially anxious. She’s also a big reader. But boy, does Cath have her quirks and then some. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I found Cath a little too kooky for my taste. Let’s just say that Cath has a lot of hang ups. This is the girl that doesn’t leave her room for a month because she’s afraid to ask for directions to the cafeteria. I mean, who does that? And I get being shy. But, really? I guess being abandoned by her selfish sister doesn’t help. If it wasn’t for Reagan – possibly my favourite character in the book- I reckon Cath wouldn’t have survived until Thanksgiving.
Cath’s character too affected the pace of the story for me. Basically Cath doesn’t really leave her room a whole lot – so there’s not a whole lot of plot to this book- It’s a pretty simple coming-of-age story, sweet and funny in parts, with moments of family drama, but it mostly takes place in Cath’s room where she spends hours upon hours writing her fan fiction.
Which we get to read.
Now, I’ve never read fan fiction before and truth be told, I could have done without the fan fiction parts of this book – they just didn’t add anything to the story for me. In hindsight, I realize that I could have skipped the fan fiction parts of the book without affecting the main storyline whatsoever, and maybe I should have just done that. The most interesting aspect of Cath’s fan fiction crusade for me was when she’s accused by a college professor of plagiarism after she hands her fan fiction in as part of an assignment. This serves as a wake up call for Cath who lives in her fan fiction bubble of escape and puts it before pretty much everything else in her life.
Oh yes, though Cath tries to avoid them, there are boys in her life. In fact, when she starts college, Cath has a boyfriend. Only he’s not really a boyfriend at all – just a friend she calls her boyfriend for security-blanket reasons…or something. But there are other boys. I can’t say the romance in this book totally worked for me – sorry, Cath is just too much on the wrong side of quirky for me – but it might work for you. Cath’s story is sweet, in its innocence.
A coming-of-age story with wit and insight, I enjoyed Fangirl mostly for Rowell’s writing, which is engaging and accessible and her spry use of dialogue and multitude pop-culture references which kept the story interesting even when the plot was slow. Fangirl hasn’t made my ‘favourites’ list and it hasn’t made me a Rainbow Rowell fan girl, but it has piqued my interest just enough that I’ll be checking out Eleanor and Park, which has been sitting patiently on my eReader for around about a year now.