Thursday, April 3, 2014

Weekly Book Review: Fangirl

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Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Released: September 10, 2013
Genre: Young Adult

"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 Rainbow Rowell's official website.]


As soon as I saw the cover, I knew I had to read this book. That picture could be fanart of my life. Young, plainly dressed girl reading kissy wizard fanfics while someone tries (in vain) to get her attention in the background? That is Surrealities reduced to her cartoon essence.

What I didn't know was just how painfully accurate Rainbow Rowell's depiction of the not-so-social life of the "fangirl" would be. The strange loneliness inherent in surrounding yourself with people you may never meet in person, the dissociation of one's internet and personal lives, and sometimes of one's internet persona and "real life" persona. Cath could be unpersonable, unreasonable, and a little naive, but she was always true-to-life.

Other characters, like Wren and Cath's roomie-slash-bestie Reagen, are a little more thinly drawn, and Levi wavered between ideal and unbelievable. Luckily, I was so caught up in Cath that I didn't really notice until the book was over. This is Cath's show, and she's strong enough to carry the brunt of it herself.

This is a character-driven book, so many of the plot elements serve mostly to highlight some aspect of Cath and the insular world she's just starting to step away from. There is plot, of course: romances, betrayals, tension, hard decisions, all that good stuff, but it plays second fiddle to Cath. This isn't a criticism. In fact, I think it's Rowell's decision to focus on character rather than event that makes the book work so well.

The snippets of Simon Snow fanfiction that usher in each chapter were some of my favorite parts of the novel. Tonally, they match many of the best fanfics I've ever read. Lyrical and steamy, broaching subjects their parent stories would never dare, transforming characters in ways that leave them recognizable but plainly different, these snippets exemplify the traits that draw readers and writers both to the world of fanfiction. Just like the best stories give birth to fanfic by leaving their readers wanting more, these fanfic snippets left me wanting more Simon Snow, though I only knew him as little more than a fictional Harry Potter analogue.

Is a fictional analogue of a fictional character fictional squared?


Present and former fangirls alike should find something to love in this novel, as will any readers who love their romances sweet, with just a hint of sap. It may be a bit uncomfortable for those who fit into the former category, but not to worry: that just means it's working.

You should also read:

Eleanor & Park

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