Book Club: Fangirl
fangirl by rainbow rowell
Rainbow Rowell is an author whose works are either a hit or miss with me with no middle ground. I’ve loved some of her books like Eleanor and Park and Attachments. Then I read Landline and it made me want to almost write her off. Almost.
I recently found out that the only non-fantasy book of Rowell’s I haven’t read was Fangirl. I figured since it’s her last one, I should give it a shot. After all, I can’t judge an author based on one bad book, right?
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?
Related post: Book Club: Eleanor and Park
A few details I’d like to explain about the book for those of you who are unfamiliar. Simon Snow in Fangirl is a fictional character within the book that’s loosely based on Harry Potter (he’s a wizard who’s “chosen” and goes to magic school). Cath Avery writes award-winning Simon Snow fan fiction that makes her internet famous. She heads to the University of Nebraska as a shy introvert with social anxiety (relatable) made even worse by the fact her more outgoing twin sister, Wren, decides not to room with her so as to branch out and make new friends. Cath navigates college life alone and lonely until her roommate and her not-boyfriend, Levi, take pity on her and take her under their wing. Cath’s fiction-writing professor sees talent in her but feels that fan-fiction is a form of plagiarism. Cath is worried about her father who is bipolar and has never been alone. In short, Cath is an awkward, anxious mess.
In the beginning, I had a hard time rooting for Cath because even though I could relate with the anxiety and the introversion, I am not anti-social like her. It almost felt like Cath was actively trying hard not to make friends so that she can moan about how much life sucks and it would be a self-fulfilling prophesy. But towards the end, I ended up liking her a bit better because the times she truly shines is when she’s talking to her father or Levi. Unfortunately, those scenes aren’t as common and it’s frustrating because while Rowell’s excellent at writing relatable characters, her plot could use a bit of work. This book has no real plot. I love characters I can relate to who show growth. I really do! In fact a book that’s all plot and nothing else is a book that gets a low rating from me too (ask me how I feel about Artemis by Andy Weir - not great). But when a book is all character-driven with no plot, that’s also not going to make the list of my favorite books. I need both.
Related post: Book Club: Attachments
I can’t really speak on behalf of fan fiction culture because I’ve never been a real participant. I’ve heard people saying that Rowell nailed the depictions and others saying that they didn’t like that she wrote Cath the way they did. I’m somewhat inclined to agree with that. While I am also socially awkward and shy, I don’t think I’m completely socially inept. I don’t starve myself and only eat protein bars in my room like Cath did, just to avoid the awkwardness of the cafeteria. I’m sure there are people who are like that but it’s a fine line you’re walking when you decide to make Cath the face of fan fic-dom and also make her a completely helpless person.
All that said, I didn’t hate the book. There were times throughout Fangirl I squealed with delight, especially when it came to Cath and Levi (they really are cute). Those sections were well-written and well thought-out. I appreciate that. I gave this book 3.5 stars out of five (rounded up to 4 stars on Goodreads).