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Saturday, October 26, 2013

'Fangirl' by Rainbow Rowell

From the BLURB:

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 fanfiction, 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 fanfiction 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?

Cath(er) is not thrilled about starting at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Ever since her twin sister, Wren, decided she wanted them to meet new people instead of being a package-deal and roommates, Cath has been panicking about rooming with a complete stranger and who she’ll eat with at dinner and how long she’ll be able to live off of snack bars. For another, she doesn’t feel great about leaving their single-dad behind to look after himself and hope he doesn’t let his creative-genius get the better of him and buy all of his meals at the gas station. 

For another, Cath isn’t so sure about the fiction writing course she’s taking. Sure, she writes – fanfiction. Simon Snow fanfiction, Simon and Baz slash fanfiction, to be more precise. But does she have it in her to create entire characters and worlds that don’t belong to Gemma T. Leslie? Cath isn’t so sure, and she’s not so sure about how she’ll get creative writing assignments finished when she’s also trying to finish her epic ‘Carry On, Simon’ fanficiton before GMT’s eighth and final Simon Snow book is released.

But it turns out Cath is going to have a lot more to worry about than just her dad, sister and the awaiting Baz/Simon fans. Cath tentatively befriends her prickly roommate, Reagan, but also falls for her boyfriend Levi, as much as socially-awkward, hermit Cath can fall for anyone. Then there’s the creative fiction study-buddy she’s mildly crushing on, and the old family wounds Wren has decided to re-open against Cath’s wishes. As her first year at UNL progresses, Cath is forced to live more outside of her own slash-fic and confront some bad guys not of Gemma T. Leslie’s creation. 

‘Fangirl’ is the new novel from Rainbow Rowell (probably marketed in that hot ‘New Adult’ market, but likewise appealing for young adults and regular adults too).  

You guys. YOU GUYS! This book is the cherry on top, the cream in the middle and the caramel drizzle all rolled into one. This book is probably my absolute favourite from 2013 so far, and that’s a darn big call.

I’m sure there are many, many readers out there like me who have been excited for this book ever since the synopsis came out and struck that particular nerdy-nerve in all of us. 

fan•girl [fan-gurl]  
Often Disparaging. An obsessive female fan, especially of something technological or from popular culture. 

Because I am a fangirl about many things, and I used to write fanfiction myself. 

fan•fic [fan-fik]  
1. fiction written by fans of a TV series, movie, etc., using existing characters and situations to develop new plots.  
2. a work of fiction in this genre.

I especially loved the idea of an author writing about this sub-culture in an affectionate way. Especially because authors haven’t always been terribly kind to the realm of fanfiction – whether it be blasting EL James for outselling the fandom she adapted her erotica from, or likening fanfiction writing to ‘rape’ (this one kills me, because it was said by one of my FAVOURITE authors and I disagree, wholeheartedly). But the moment Rainbow Rowell announced this as her next project, I knew it would be something very balanced, respectful and bring something interesting to the fanfiction world – and I was right.  

At first I thought Rainbow Rowell wrote Cath as quite the stereotypical fanfiction nerd – a girl who enjoys being cooped up in her room, spinning stories around her favourite stories and particularly favouring a homosexual-bent between characters who are heterosexual in the canon. That’s fine though – because Wren used to write fanfiction and she’s the ‘cool’ twin, and while at University Cath inadvertently meets other people invested in Simon Snow fanfiction (even her own) who she’d never suspect because they don’t fit the stereotype. 

But in the meantime I loved how truthfully Rowell portrayed Cath as this girl with hundreds of thousands of online followers who are hanging on her every word, but in the real world she tries to keep her geeky double-life on the down-low. I think anyone who’s ever written fanfiction can relate to this conversation Cath has with her (very cool and sexy) roommate, when she discovers Cath’s hobby; 

“I have lots of friends,” Cath said. 
“I never see them.” 
“I just got here. Most of my friends went to other schools. Or they’re online.” 
“Internet friends don’t count.” 
“Why not?” 
Reagan shrugged disdainfully. 
“And I don’t have a weird thing with Simon Snow,” Cath said. “I’m just really active in the fandom.” 
“What the fuck is ‘the fandom’?” 
“You wouldn’t understand,” Cath sighed, wishing she hadn’t used that word, knowing that if she tried to explain herself any further, it would just make it worse. Reagan wouldn’t believe – or understand – that Cath wasn’t just a Simon fan. She was one of the fans. A first-name-only fan with fans of her own. 

There’s plenty of comedic fodder around fanfiction and fangirling, and Rowell explores them brilliantly. I laughed out loud while reading this, and even though lots of people will come to this book and know exactly what Rowell and Cath are talking about with the underground fanfiction world, I also think ‘Fangirl’ will be really accessible, funny and a great introduction for people who are totally clueless about fandoms. 

Cath really is the draw-card of this book though. Rowell just writes Cath to perfection, and with utter tenderness. I think lots of people who are introverted and don’t like people/crowds are instantly labelled as hopelessly shy, but that’s not always the case. I know plenty of quiet people who just hate social situations, but get them one-on-one and they’re a laugh-riot and massive show-offs. That’s Cath. Yes, she’s panicked by the thought of not knowing where the dining hall is and doing that awkward standing-with-a-tray-of-food thing (so avoids the dining hall for one whole month) but she’s wicked smart, has a quick wit and feisty personality that she starts to show off to those around her. But that part of her that panics at the thought of new routines and meeting strangers en masse is so relatable to the less extroverted of us, and Rowell writes that pitch-perfectly; 

She lifted her chin up and forced her forehead to relax. “I’m the Cool One,” she told herself. “Somebody give me some tequila because I’ll totally drink it. And there’s no way you’re going to find me later having a panic attack in your parent’s bathroom. Who wants to French-kiss?”

While reading ‘Fangirl’ I also thought there was a lot of Rowell shining through, and her own experiences. Because a big part of the book is Cath being comfortable with her own voice (not just Gemma T. Leslie’s) and sharing her writing with the world, even becoming confident in her craft and calling herself a writer. At one point, her fiction-writing lecturer tells Cath that her characters practically ‘quiver on the page’ and that sounded so much like the sort of praise I can imagine Rowell receiving. This book will also speak to a lot of people about art and creating, writing especially, and how much showing your writing to people and believing in your work takes practice, patience and confidence. There are lots of threads in ‘Fangirl’ and this is just one of them, but it’s beautifully plotted.

And, of course, there’s also the romantic element. Look, I am in the minority for people who did not adore Rowell’s ‘Eleanor and Park’ (and I mean the minority – just looking at the back cover of ‘Fangirl’ with all the praise for ‘Eleanor and Park’ is pretty impressive. But I’m still not swayed). But I love, love, loved her debut ‘Attachments’. That book was funny and romantic and totally unique in its romance. ‘Fangirl’ has romantic links closer to ‘Attachments’ than ‘Eleanor and Park’, and for that I was very grateful.

The romance in this book is superb. It’s a slow-unfolding, but a worthwhile one – especially because Rowell even throws a red-herring love interest into the mix early on to keep things especially interesting. But I loved the romance in ‘Fangirl’ mostly because (as with ‘Attachments’) it’s all about these two people falling in love with each other’s personalities over more superficial things. I doubt Rowell would ever be so inclined to write love-at-first-sight, because her slow-boiling romances are just so darn good with big helpings of believability mixed with utter sweetness.  

I also have to give big kudos to this book for exploring mental illness. And not in a prescribed, easy-to-remedy, after school special kind of way but with a lot of grittiness, heartache, anxiety and reality. There are a lot of threads to this book. There’s also a storyline to do with Cath and Wren’s returned mother, but it’s used more for character exploration than as a plot-crutch and I even admired that (again, more reality, and no neatly-tied conclusions to messy situations). 

I just loved ‘Fangirl’; I can’t even begin to tell you how much. I laughed, I cried . . .  yadda, yadda, yadda. More importantly I immediately knew this was my book of 2013 – the one that has just made my (already phenomenal) reading year just that extra bit special. Bring on ‘Landline’ for 2014!



  1. I'm ridiculously keen to read this one. It looks pretty awesome. I love that fangirl extraordinaire, Gingerhaze did the cover too!

  2. Wow, another 5 star review for this book! Tonya loved it, too! I am not reading your review yet since I plan on reading this soon, but it makes me happy to see that you enjoyed it. It'll be my first RR book so I'm a bit nervous about it--the pressure to love her is pretty intense.

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden


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