posted at Tuesday, June 18th, 2013 at 2:14 PM | Reviews, Young Adult
I received this book for free from BEA in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on September 10, 2013
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
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?
First Sentence: “There was a boy in her room.”
There are some authors who write in such a way that I’m mentally swept off my feet, in love from the first words. Rainbow Rowell officially joins this short list, now that I’ve loved both of her books that I’ve read. Her books speak to me in a way that very few do, to a degree it’s a rare to find. Rowell’s books make me feel a little bit less alone, a little bit more understand, and point out truths I’ve often thought or even discussed with friends but not seen in fiction. I can tell you right now that I will be sitting on Attachments (not literally) for as long as I can hold out, because then I know that there won’t be ANY MORE Rowell for who knows how long. That’s how much I love her writing.
Fangirl took me about half a month to read, which, if you know how much I read, is sort of insane, especially for a book I love so much. However, I was determined to read this sooner, but my review schedule is not forgiving of dalliances with books not on the schedule, so I read a chapter here and a chapter there as I was able. This can be a bit of an onus for a book to bear, though, because it gives me time to forget everything, and can make connection emotionally more difficult since you’re not as thoroughly immersed. With Fangirl, though, the moment I started reading, even if it had been days since I got to read any, I was immediately back in Cath’s world. Within a paragraph or two, the world around me dissipated and I was completely absorbed and dialed in.
Because this is such a highly anticipated title, a lot of bloggers have been getting early starts. Thus, though I avoid actual reviews until I’ve read the book, I’ve seen some tweets and statuses. Though Fangirl is nigh perfection for me, personally, I know other sorts of readers (as in those that do not have a brain that functions like mine) have had trouble relating to Cath. Certainly, Cath is a very different sort of heroine from the norm. She’s introverted to the point of being almost a hermit, preferring to live her life almost entirely in a fictional world. Social anxiety plague her to the degree that she actively avoids making friends and refuses to go to the dining hall because she’s afraid of embarrassing her self by doing something wrong. When things get heavy, Cath will just shut down and make really bad choices, like not turning in a final project because she couldn’t figure out what to do. Cath is also angry, at her mom, at Wren, and at herself. I can definitely see where her decisions wouldn’t register with more socially competent readers.
While I am not precisely like Cath, I’m close enough that I get her. I could have been very much like her, minus the fan fiction stardom. See, in some ways, Cath’s downfall was her happy high school experience: built-in best friend in her twin sister Wren, popularity that comes with hanging out with Wren, and comfortable boyfriend Abel. On arriving at the University of Nebraska for her freshman year of college, Wren’s safe, familiar little world falls apart. Wren, who refused to room with Cath, wants little to nothing to do with her twin sister, desperate to forge her own identity. Abel dumps her for a girl who a) actually likes him in a romantic way and b) got a higher score on the ACT. Her grumpy roommate Reagan, with omnipresent boyfriend Levi, stress her out further. Wren parties for all she’s worth to make new friends; Cath avoids people more than ever. With Cath’s personality, suddenly losing your safety net in a new experience like this would result in such a response in a lot of cases. For me, I was so unhappy and friendless for most of high school that I started college fired with determination to become an extrovert; it didn’t work, but it did get me through the first weeks.
What Cath fears more than anything is being bad at something, and here is where I understand this girl so much it hurts. She resists new experiences because she doesn’t want to make a fool out of herself. This is behind her trepidation to go eat in the dining hall, where she could go the wrong way in line or sit at the wrong table. This is also why she just doesn’t do her final fiction writing project: she fears she doesn’t have the talent to write her own world, and prefers the safety of her fan fiction. With romance, too, she goes very slow on the physical side of the relationship for fear of doing the wrong thing. With all of these, the more time that passes, the more difficult that goal becomes to accomplish.
The romance is important, and I’ll talk about that later, but I love that falling in love isn’t the only thing to help bring her out of her shell. Forging a relationship with her roommate, Reagan, is her first true step out of her comfort zone. Sick of watching Cath subsist on protein bars, Reagan forces her to go to the dining hall, and this becomes a routine. There, they bond by people-watching other students, making up ridiculous stories about them. Though Reagan and Cath have little in common, they’re able to find ways to connect, and, if Cath can handle the intimidating Reagan, that’s a big step. Plus, bonding through stories and jokes like this is exactly what Cath does with her family; the way to get through Cath’s heart is through fiction of one kind or another.
Family issues are key here, too, though they are not tied up in a tidy little bow. Cath and Wren have a loving father, who’s raised them as a single parent since their mom walked out when they were kids. Though their father, Art, takes good care of them, he has manic depression, and needs a lot of looking after himself, as he will not take his meds, since they interfere with his creativity, necessary to his job in advertising. Art always gave them pretty free rein, trusting them to be responsible and to keep him in check. The twins going to college changes the family dynamics, which is painful, but ultimately better for everyone. On top of that, their mother wants to talk to them, but Cath wants no part of the woman who abandoned her.
Then there’s the romance, and, my goodness is it swoony. I won’t tell you who the guy is, because it’s better to let things evolve in front of your eyes. However, I will say that Rowell gets the speed of emotions just right in Fangirl, both friendship and relationships. Once something starts, it moves with the speed of a man-eating hare. Relationships of all sorts build so quickly in college. Since you’re with everyone from morning until night, there’s so much more time for feelings to build, because you’re all crammed together in dorms. As a kid, you lack transportation or have a curfew in the summer, and other times half your day is school. As an adult, most of your time is spent at work, so there’s less time for socialization. College is friendship in romance in hyperdrive.
The romance in Fangirl is a slow burn that comes almost out of nowhere oh so perfectly. Rowell hurt my heart a few times along the way, but she made it all work so well. In a lot of ways, this guy is not my ideal love interest, and I wouldn’t want him for myself (several of his qualities are dealbreakers for me personally), but I love him SO HARD for Cath. Who knows if they’ll last forever, but he’s just what she needs right now.
Much as my heart wants to give Fangirl every single star in the heavens, there was one thing I didn’t completely love. While I did love the fan fiction angle, I also found one element puzzling. Cath is writing an immensely popular slash fan fiction about Simon Snow, a wizard, and his nemesis, Baz. The Simon Snow series is an obvious stand-in for Harry Potter, which I’m totally cool with. What threw me for a real loop was a casual reference to HP within Fangirl. Why would both exist? This really does not make sense to me. If HP exists in this world, why draw up an imitation to reference? I suspect it has something to do with the amount of fan fiction included and copyright, but why not just leave HP out entirely? In this world, Simon Snow probably wouldn’t be that popular if Harry already existed, because it had been done. If Simon came first, then what sort of commentary is that on Rowling? Logic fail aside, I also was not nearly engaged in Cath’s fan fiction, so I was generally just waiting for those bits to be over. I do really like the role it played and her life, and the discussions of fan fiction versus original fiction, but the story itself was of somewhat limited interest.
I will read absolutely anything Rainbow Rowell writes. Though I’ve only read two of her books, she’s near the top of my favorite authors list. Fangirl has realistic characters and is jam-packed with feels. Also, if you’ve been searching for books authentically about what it feels like to be in college, you want this book. I recommend Fangirl as highly as I possibly can.
“Months are different in college, especially freshman year. Too much happens. Every freshman month equals six regular months—they’re like dog months.'”
Since I loved this book so much, I want to share it with you beautiful people. I’m offering up a copy internationally, either a preorder (which will come a long time from now) or, if you live in the US, you can choose to get a copy of the ARC. Sorry but I can’t afford to ship books myself internationally, because all of the money for shipping comes out of my pocket. Just fill out the Rafflecopter to enter!