Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin, an imprint of Macmillan
Publication Date: September 10, 2013
From the author of the New York Times bestseller Eleanor & Park.
A coming-of-age tale of fan fiction, family and first love.
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? (Cover and synopsis from Goodreads.)
A Must-Read, Must-Buy…
After reading Eleanor & Park last year, Fangirl moved to the top of my must-read list, and when I received gift cards and cash for Christmas, it was my absolute must-buy book. I just loved Eleanor & Park so much, and I was excited to read more of Rainbow Rowell’s writing. And even though I’ve never written any fan fiction myself, the idea is very cool to me, so I thought I would just devour this book.
And Then a Speed Bump…
However, I did have a bit of a set-back while reading the book. Like I said, I think fan fiction is a very cool thing–a way for readers to continue to live in that world that they love, a way to make their own stories out of those beloved characters. And yet, I had a bit of an issue with the parts of Fangirl that were snippets of Cath’s fan fiction.
Simon Snow, the fictional book series in Fangirl that Cath loves and writes fan fiction of, is a lot like Harry Potter. And I saw an interview where Rowell explains that yes, it is like that on purpose–it’s basically an homage to the Harry Potter series. And that was cool–I LOVE the Harry Potter series, and I give away tons of my bonus points to books that have references to Harry Potter. But then, in a later chapter, Harry Potter is mentioned outright by Levi in this book. And that just seems weird to me.
If I lived in Cath’s world, and there were two huge franchises–Harry Potter and Simon Snow–and they were THAT similar, I would assume that a lot of people would say that Simon Snow was a ripoff of Harry Potter, or vice versa, depending on which one was published first. And that wasn’t mentioned in the book at all. It was just kind of strange to me that there would be a world where both of these stories would exist. And then I found this article, which far better succeeds at articulating my confusion than I am able.
So all of this, while it really doesn’t matter with the storyline in the long run, and really isn’t that big of a deal at all, kind of set me back with the book, and made my reading slow down a lot. But I did end up enjoying the book a lot, regardless.
And We’re Back on Track…
This book was really nostalgic for me. I LOVED my time in college, and living on campus, and all the friends I made and the crazy adventures we had. Oh, and the classes were good, too–for the most part. And Fangirl just brought me right back into that time of my life. I loved that the squirrels on campus weren’t afraid of students, which was exactly how it was on my campus. I love Levi’s description of how months are different in college. And I also felt some nostalgia for those days when the Harry Potter books were coming out, and all that excitement and anticipation that went along with it.
I also felt like this book spoke to my life now, in a way, especially with my blogging. Cath isn’t a blogger, she’s a fan fiction writer, but I loved the descriptions of her trying to keep up with her online presence, how “She used to read and respond to every comment on her stories–comments were like gold stars, like May Day bouquets”. And it’s very true with blogging as well–the community is the best part of blogging, I think, and commenting is the way to interact with that community, and a way to kind of give back to those who interact with you, with those who actually take the time to notice you and read the content that you are sharing.
I really enjoyed the different layers to the characters as well. I liked the different ways that Cath interacted with Levi, with Nick, with Wren, with her dad. There was a nice thread of love between all the characters (well, with the exception of Nick, I guess), but with different types of love, different colors of thread, between each pair of characters. And I really felt like the characters, as well as the story itself, became much stronger and much more interesting and complex as the story went on.
Rainbow Rowell gets bonus points for the following in Fangirl:
- A Gilmore Girls reference = 50,000 points
- In one scene, a doorman’s name is Yackle. I think this is a reference to the Wicked Years series by Gregory Maguire. If so, 50,000 points.
- The homage to Harry Potter = 1 million points.