Plenty of fantastic books are being released today, and we're reviewing them all this week. First up? Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl!
I absolutely LOVED this book, and you can totally count me on the Rainbow Rowell fan train after this.
Hardcover, 405 pages
Published September 10th 2013 by St. Martin's Griffin
Format read: Finished copy via publisher
I ending up picking up the book because of the hype, read it and… didn’t get it. I didn’t dislike the book, but it also wasn’t really my cup of tea.
So when it came time to read Fangirl, I was cautiously optimistic. I was intrigued by the description of a protagonist who has essentially spent her entire life living in the fantasy world of someone else’s creation and was breaking into her own at college for the first time, but I was also worried I wouldn’t like the book. I wanted to join the legion of Rainbow fans, and wasn’t sure if this would be the book that would do the trick.
Fortunately for me, Fangirl was everything I hoped it would be, and more. It’s charming, sweet and funny coming-of-age, and I’m confident that Rowell fans will absolutely love and cherish this book.
Synopsis (via Goodreads)
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?
Things that worked:
Sometimes, when you read a book, you’ll think, “Hey, I want to be friends with this character.”
But there are also times when you’ll read a book, and you’ll see so much of yourself in the main character, you’ll end up both delighted at the camaraderie, and also feeling kind of taken aback at how someone else in the world could understand you so well, and put that understanding into writing.
Such was the case with Cath. She’s sweet and gifted, but doesn’t realize necessarily how talented or pretty she truly is.
Because of past family issues, she’s also extremely introverted, and more inclined to spend time alone in her room, unabashedly working on her Simon Snow fanfiction, rather than taking advantage of the fact that she’s a freshman in college, and should be out meeting people, and having all sorts of new experiencers.
Even if readers aren’t necessarily involved in online fandoms in the way Cath is, they will absolutely relate to her that reluctance to step outside of her comfort zone, especially when off at college for the first time. They will cheer her on when she takes small steps – e.g. beginning to eat every meal in the cafeteria – and starts getting out.
Cath is the everywoman, with traits, charms and insecurities that I, and I believe that everyone else will relate to.
As for the secondary characters, they were a delightful mixture in themselves. Regan was a perfect sidekick to Cath, begrudgingly (and kindly) guiding her through the complexities of freshman year. Levi was charming and sweet, and also had imperfections – which Cath herself noticed – that made him even more special and true to live.
Wren, Courtney and the other characters all rounded out Cath’s college experience in a way that made me feel seriously nostalgic for my own college days, and I believe other readers will fall in love with them as well.
I already knew that Rowell was a gifted writer after reading Eleanor and Park, and her charms shine even brighter in Fangirl.
Everything about her writing was superb. From her descriptions of campus life – the squirrels! – to Cath’s internal realization that college actually is kind of difficult, is beautifully realized.
Between Rowell’s excellent dialogue, her brilliant pacing and plotting of college life, including the types of events and bombshells that we all know ruled our own college lives, readers will be completely immersed in her world.
* The relationship between Cath and Wren
Fangirl is very much Cath’s story. However, this doesn’t mean that Rowell doesn’t make it a point to delve into the sibling relationship between the Cath and Wren, with the type of brutal honesty that anyone with a sibling would understand.
Rowell does a brilliant job of showing just how someone like Cath would go into college, wanting everything to remain the same between her sister and herself. Wren is her security blanket and in many ways, a template for all of the more brave, impulsive actions that Cath herself isn’t willing to commit.
Though Wren and Cath are on the outs for much of the novel, Rowell’s characterization of the relationship between the two girls is so strong; the reader ends up absolutely understanding how Cath can:
A) Forgive Wren for a lot of the things that she does, and
B) Actually end up being thankful to Wren for forcing her to leave her comfort zone.
As for Wren, Rowell subtly and beautifully shows how someone like Wren, despite her rebellion and desire for change, eventually learns that family ties will always ben the strongest.
I think that any reader who has ever had a love/hate relationship with a sibling, will absolutely love reading about Wren and Cath’s relationship.
* Rowell’s depiction and inclusion of online fandoms
At the heard of Fangirl is the depiction of the culture of online fandoms, and Rowell depicts that world beautifully.
She does a fantastic job of showing that even though online fandoms are often thought of as being so-called weird people on the internet – a point that Levi and Regan make, several times – it’s actually a strong, supportive community where people can be creative and imaginative with pre-formed worlds.
Yes, the work of fandom will never have quite the same impact that traditional work does – a point that Cath’s writing professor makes in a roundabout way – but it’s still important, nonetheless.
Rowell also does a beautifully understated job of showing just how and why people turn to fandom, especially in times of personal tragedy. In Cath and Wren’s case, they turned to the world of Simon Snow after a family situation, and it’s easy, through Rowell’s writing, to see why Cath continues to immerse herself in that world.
* The romantic relationship
The relationship between Levi and Cath was developed slowly and gradually, in a way that I haven’t seen in a YA/NA novel in a long, long time. They take the time to get to know each other. They’re friends first, and then they begin to realize that they’re actually interested in one another.
But best of all? They don’t see each other as being perfect. Even after they get together, they teasingly note each other’s faults in a way, which I think shows that they’re realistic, smart and can possibly be in it for the long haul.
* The ending
Without giving any spoilers away, I thought the ending was perfect. It wrapped up all of the loose ends, but it also left enough questions, so that readers will have the satisfaction of imagining Cath and Wren continuing
Things that didn't work:
But more importantly this is novel that really seeks to understand people who aren’t perfect, who aren’t necessarily popular – in the traditional way, at least – but are also very talented and gifted in their own quiet, understated ways. It’s not a surprise that almost every review for Fangirl on Goodreads talks about how the reader felt a kinship with Cath, and I think that as the book goes into wide release, more and more readers will feel the same.
I highly, highly recommend this book for all readers, but especially for fans of contemporary fiction, who are looking for something that goes beyond the type of fiction that they normally read.
About the author:
Blog and other stuff at rainbowrowell.com.