Release Date: September 10, 2013
Source: Netgalley via publisher - thank you!
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
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?
Rainbow Rowell, you are a goddess. It's like you heard all my rants about New Adult. It's like you knew that the genre could be so much more and decided you'd give it a shot. And then because of your awesomeness, you suddenly became one of my auto-buy authors.
1. (+) Cath, the protagonist - In perusing reviews about Fangirl, it seems that the most divisive topic is Cath, and whether you like Cath will affect your entire experience of the book. I don't think that you necessarily need to identify with Cath so much as feel for her situation. Cath comes to college with a slew of social anxiety--and sometimes it's painful to watch. She's shy and bereft of her former BFF sister, Wren, who refused to room with her. She stays in her room instead of going to the dining hall because she's scared (of the new situation? of being without her sister? of her beautifully confident older roommate?), doesn't know much about campus (and calls 911 when walking about at night; very smart, very self-conscious), and has established a routine of eating protein bars instead of actual food. She retreats when afraid, when her safety net has been destroyed. This situation is summed by: "In new situations, all the trickiest rules are the ones nobody bothers to explain to you. (And the ones you can't Google.)." Would it bother you to read about someone who's lost in the beginning? Personally I didn't experience the same sort of anxiety that Cath did when I started college, but I know some people who did and I could picture it clearly. And when Cath came out of her shell, her fantastic character shined. She's not just the reclusive writer of a popular fanfiction but also a brave, loyal, funny, easily hurt introverted girl with unflinching principles and heart. Although she's a tad judgmental regarding drinking/partying/etc., I could admire her bravery for not falling for peer pressure and for her desire to care for her sister even when Wren wasn't the nicest person. She's not perfect--far from it--but a lot of her vulnerabilities are things you can easily relate to. My feelings on Cath align closely with those stated in this review.
2. (+) World-building AKA College Setting - Unlike Cath, I didn't go to a big state university, but the college scene is generally portrayed well. From the assignments Cath receives from her creative writing professor to the feel of the college library where she works on an assignment with a friend to managing your social life along with your school work to not always knowing where everything is on your suddenly somehow large campus to your finals appearing out of nowhere to the frenzied energy of freshmen SO READY FOR THE COLLEGE EXPERIENCE --- yes, everything set the scene wonderfully.
3. (+) Romance - I found it fairly obvious who the romantic interest would be from the start, but don't read this section if you're super afraid of spoilers. Never have I thought that I'd find an extrovert who smiles at everyone and is so jolly about life actually attractive, especially since he doesn't like to read. Levi is the charmer, the social one who's always on good terms with others and who you can always count on (to do any good deed), the one who you can't help liking but who has vulnerable sides too. Levi's charisma is so catchy that even when he does something terrible, you, like Cath, will eventually forgive him. And I also didn't think a receding hairline could be attractive but again Rowell surprises me. Opposites attract? Definitely in this novel. Plus, neither Levi nor Cath change who they are while they are dating.
4. (+) Nostalgia - I read this back in May, not long after I'd graduated from college, and oh my god, the nostalgia. So perfectly portrayed. The dining hall experience, the people watching, the creative writing professor who's anti-fan fiction for Cath but was anti-genre for me, the months that are like years in collegespeak, the dorm room life, social and otherwise, the confusion over what exactly this new experience would entail, decorating your room with your roommate, the shock of meeting your new roommate, adjusting (from being a social misfit--or continuing to be one), the shock of classes and the work and suddenly all coalescing... However, since this was written from nerdy Cath's perspective, there's not much to see about the party perspective or drinking (well, besides Judgment on her twin, Wren). In fact, there's almost a stigma because every stupid character decision seems to result from that person having been drunk or drinking and Wren especially doesn't do anything in moderation. There is definitely a danger as a freshman of overdoing yourself, but it didn't seem like you got to see someone in moderation being okay. But that's totally a personal preference, and one thing you'll have to do is reconcile that your experiences may also be different from Cath's, even with the wonderfully portrayed nostalgia.
5. (+) Fan fiction - Simon Snow is basically a weird mix of Twilight and Harry Potter (which for me answered the question of why HP still existed in this fictional world.). It alternates between Cath's story and the fan fiction she's writing for Simon Snow and her dedicated fans. I skimmed over the fan fiction because it didn't quite interest me, but regardless the appreciation of all fan fiction truly shows. In her acknowledgements, Rainbow Rowell confesses to having read a bunch of fan fiction, and it shows. It really, really shows, and thank you to Ms. Rowell for not shaming fan fiction as sometimes happens. This is the perfect book for people who've grown up with HP but might ask what comes next. Perfect book for fan fiction writers. Perfect for those who want to address tough questions on ownership and creative license. Perfect for writers in general because even though her creative writing professor doesn't accept fan fiction, she sees the potential in Cath and takes her writing seriously.
6. (+) Character Cast - This is definitely a character-driven book. Reagan is Cath's spunky, loyal roommate who becomes her friend when she eases Cath out of her shell. She also likes to slam doors, is constantly in a hurry, and is a wonderful contrast to Cath's self-consciousness. Cath's twin, Wren, wants to meet new people and have new experiences separate from her twin because she wants something of her own. Problem is, she tries to do this in rather extreme terms, yet Cath can't help but remember all the good times with Wren, the times when they used to write Simon Snow fan fiction together. And of course, there's Cath's father who suffers from manic episodes but who's not defined by his mental illness. He's the perfect combination of quirky and loving, creative and energetic, strong and vulnerable. And Rowell gets bonus points for including a mentally ill character in the first place.
7. (+) Character Growth - The best part about Cath's journey is not just the character growth that she undergoes but the realization that comes with it: that it's okay to be an introvert, to not jump wildly into the various college experiences but to ease yourself into the new situation. Coming-of-age here means handling a lot of drama and thriving in this scarily new place but doing so without changing who she fundamentally is: a hard-working nerd scholar who's socially awkward but so believable.
8. (+) Writing - Although the writing didn't quite captivate me as it did with Eleanor and Park (all those descriptions! so beautiful!), the writing here still shines with authenticity. There's a lot of humor and realistic dialogue and wonderfully poignant situations that I think are captured quite well.
9. (+/-) Pacing - There's a lot going on in this novel - the problems of college, socially and academically, the drama with her family and various other characters - but sometimes I find that pacing in character-driven stories can be slightly off. For me, this book was just a tad slow, a tad hard to get into at first.
10. (+) Cover - What a perfect cover. Cath and her writing, Levi and his obsession with her name. The fan fiction (Baz and Simon are a form of Harry + Draco, no?). The colors and the font. So much love.
Nerds. Introverts. Harry Potter fans (because even if it's a mix of HP & Twilight, it's mostly HP). Fanfiction writers. New Adult fans. YA fans disappointed with current NA work. YA fans. Fans of Gayle Forman, especially Just One Day. Fans of John Green and Stephanie Perkins, YA contemporary romance authors with truthful, believable narratives. Any mix of the above. This one is for you. I've pre-ordered my copy, and I hope you'll consider buying this book too.