Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

28 January, 2015 Reviews 42 comments

Review: Fangirl by Rainbow RowellFangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Series: Standalone
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on September 10th 2013
Pages: 433
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Amazon Good BooksBook Depository

A coming-of-age tale of fanfiction, 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 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 that 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? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

It’s time for Rainbow Rowell and I to break up.

I didn’t want to admit it, but after reading all of her books now, I can safely say her writing style just isn’t for me. It’s like that time I cheerfully broke up with Cassandra Clare, though, admittedly, over different reasons. But this time it hurts. It wounds me to realize that I can’t join in with all my friends, ride the Rainbow iz Queen bandwagon, roll around in a meadow of flowers that magically whispers witty Rainbow Rowell quotes and feast at the Fangirl banquet. I know it may seem foolish to be disappointed. I mean, what can a person physically do? No book can be universally loved and I did give it the good old college try.

Here’s the thing: For all intents and purposes, I should have loved Fangirl

The strange thing about my reading experience with Fangirl is that I actually deeply connected with all of the characters on a personal level. As a person who suffers from anxiety and has dealt with a father who was admitted to a mental hospital when I was a teen, I sympathized with Cath. I remembered those feelings of craving independence from my sibling as Wren did. I understand having an intense passion for a fandom and being at midnight parties, waiting for the next book in your favorite series. I even connected with Laura’s inability to handle life as a mom. In a lot of ways, quite a few of the experiences these characters dealt with, I have dealt with. For that reason alone, I gave this book an extra star. Unfortunately, that was not enough for me.

Rainbow Rowell lives and breathes characters. They are fluid, realistic (for the most part… Eleanor & Park excluded), memorable, flawed, and relatable. These aren’t the type of characters that stay on the page. They shout, scream and jump out at you because Rowell is just that good. But it’s also her flaw because that’s all she writes, characters. In fact, many times it feels like her stories have neither a beginning or an ending, with the reader viewing a piece of a character’s life through small window of time. So I’m convinced that Rowell can’t plot her way out of a brown paper bag.

I know that might anger some of you, but hear me out.

Fangirl is a very character-driven novel and doesn’t actually have a plot. Rowell’s created these characters, placed them in situations and forced them to react to said situations. She’s great at that. But where does the book go from there? Which direction are the characters moving? What are they moving towards? What’s the goal of the novel? These are some questions I’ve asked myself through every one of her books. And I often feel like I’m floundering around in her prose like someone who’s gone swimming in the ocean drunk. Everything around these characters is static. Only they move from point A to point B to further the story along. Because of this, if you don’t happen to fall in love with the characters early on, the story doesn’t work. Rainbow Rowell’s characters ARE her stories.

One thing positive that came out of reading all of Rowell’s books is that, I’ve learned that I am not the character-driven sort of reader. I’m more of a reader that needs a strong plot to see me to the end of the book. I can deal with unlikable characters or characters that have issues if the plot can save the day. I have the patience of a fruit fly and if I’m expected to sit around reading about a character who is waiting for something to happen to them, then forget it. You’ve lost me as a reader.

The second issue I had with Fangirl was Rowell, once again, tip-toeing around elephants in her stories. Her novels are so focused on her characters that she never addresses things that feel essential to the plot. With Fangirl is was the slash fic and how it relates to fandom. With Landline it was the magical phone. With Eleanor and Park it was race and Park’s self acceptance. It’s the same formula for each of her books over and over again.

Step 1: Develop characters for half the book!
Step 2: Introduce something heavy to center my quirky characters around something.
Step 3: End the book without tying up loose ends because they served my purpose and Honey Rainbow don’t care.

It’s the most frustrating thing about her books! It’s like she dances around the heavy stuff on purpose! There is almost always something that feels deliberately left out, basically anything that could remotely make the story more interesting. Which leads me to my third point…

Fangirl is boring. While I could relate to Cath, she is the dullest person to read about ever. The only scenes that she showed life with was either with her dad or Levi when she suddenly had a personality and wanted to be witty. Those scenes were the best in the book and what kept me reading. But they were few and far between and I started to question why this book was over 400 pages. Not even the fan fiction or cute romance could save this book.

And let’s talk about this Simon and Baz fan fiction. Clearly it is a homage to Harry Potter, yet, Harry Potter happens to exist in the same universe as Simon Snow? No, I don’t buy that. That’s a plotberg if I ever saw one. The fan fiction sections in the novel really didn’t do much for me. This isn’t because it wasn’t good, but because it didn’t have enough page time for me to attempt to connect with the Simon and Baz. I did feel like bashing my head in when Cath would read Levi the long sections of her fic, so I guess they did spawn some type of emotional reaction in me, albeit, not a positive one. Also, did Cath ever finish her fic? Rowell wrote so much about Simon and Baz and just completely left that open… AGAIN FRUSTRATING.

Side note: I’m really curious to see how Rowell manages to write Carry On, Cath’s fan fiction of Simon Snow, without people directly comparing it to Harry Potter. I mean, essentially it’s Draco/Harry fic. But since monetizing fan fiction is now a thing, *cough* Cassandra Clare, E.L. James *cough* who am I to stop her?

To conclude, Fangirl ultimately let me down, but I’m not entirely disappointed that I read it. I learned something about myself as a reader and I did gain a few good laughs from the clever banter. I wouldn’t call this a terrible book, and hey, it was better than Eleanor and Park. So there’s always that.

Steph Sinclair

Steph Sinclair

Co-blogger at Cuddlebuggery
I'm a bibliophile trying to make it through my never-ending To-Be-Read list, equal opportunity snarker, fangirl and co-blogger here at Cuddlebuggery. Find me on GoodReads.

42 Responses to “Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell”

  1. Zed

    I loved reading this review. I can tell you originally loved her books so it’s brave of you to admit that you don’t actually like her writing style.
    I haven’t read any of Rainbow Rowell’s books yet even though my friends are pestering me to read Eleanor & Park, but I don’t think I will now either!
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    • Steph Sinclair

      I wouldn’t say I originally loved them. I liked some okay, but could never really feel the magic that everyone else seemed to have. I think you should give them a try to see for yourself though!

  2. Lindsey

    THANK YOU!! I read/used to read a LOT of fanfic, and I understood a lot of Cath’s universe, but for me, this is my least favorite novel by Rainbow. I get her concept but I agree with everything you said. I skipped pretty much all the fic parts because you’re right, you don’t have enough time to connect with Simon and I also was getting confused with the HP-verse. And you’re right, that’s too hectic of a world to have both Simon Snow and HP exist hahaha! But loving all of the Rainbow’s books, this one just didn’t grab me as much. And I’m kinda disappointed that the Carry On fic is her next novel–more waiting for the next 🙁
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  3. Ashley

    I completely agree with you Steph. I WANTED to love this so much.. but I just didn’t click.

    And I totally agree with you about the Harry Potter / Simon Snow thing. That was RIDICULOUS. I would have been fine with it if HP didn’t exist in this ‘world’ but it did.. that just made no sense.
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  4. Ilex

    This is so funny, Steph, because while I loved reading this book, I noticed some of the exact same problems.

    No plot? No kidding. It’s just Cath’s freshman year, beginning to end, and that’s it. There aren’t any particular stakes or tensions. We get the assurance at the end that Cath is probably on her way to becoming a respected writer, and that’s all the “resolution” there is.

    And the Harry Potter reference was just plain jarring. I can’t believe no one edited that out, because no way can HP and Simon Snow exist in the same universe.

    So while I enjoyed the book much more than you did, I also completely agree with all your points. And honestly, after reading both this and E&P, I have no great desire to read any more Rainbow Rowell books, either — these were both just too unresolved for me. Congrats to you on giving them all a chance!

    • Steph Sinclair

      Someone else mentioned having no desire to read any more of her books because of that too. I just don’t get the point of her books sometimes. Like I NEED TO KNOW SOME THINGS. GAH. I really want to know if Cath did finish Carry One before the last Simon Snow book came out. BUT SHE NEVER MENTIONS IT. WHY????

  5. Steph

    You are not alone. Everyone LOVED Fangirl. I was so bored. I wasn’t supposed to be bored, because an a petsom formerly immersed in the world of find on and fic, I could totally relate. Your issues with this book are also mine. However, one of the biggest things is that I loathe is third person pov and that’s the (my) first strike against RR books. I did enjoy Eleanor and Park, but that ending felt unresolved and unsatisfying. So don’t feel bad. Breakups make us stronger:)

    • Steph Sinclair

      I am so with you on third person. All of her books are in third person and it drives me up a wall! It’s always the first hurdle and the lack of resolution just kills it for me. Woo-hoo for breakups!

      • Steph

        I just broke up with Holly Black. The Darkest Part of the Forest just dragged and I probably would’ve loved it if it was in first person pov. Oh well. Lol

  6. Ella

    I’m so glad I read this post today. Her books are on my TBR list. I’ve been getting mixed reviews and most of those were positive but I still wasn’t sure aboit them until reading this. You’re usually spot on about books in your reviews so I’m going to take your word for it and not even bother. My list is long enough, anyway.

  7. Kate Copeseeley

    Even though I ADORE RR, I can’t really argue with anything you’ve pointed out here. They are essentially plotless, but I love them anyway. (Although I argue against strict Simon/Harry comparison)
    Great review. 🙂

  8. Amanda

    I feel so much better now about not wanting to read this. I did love Attachments and I really enjoyed both E&P and Landline though. I think there’s something about Rowell’s characters that I have read that speaks to where I’ve been in similar stages my life so they were perfect for me to accept and love. Fanfiction-not so much my thing though so I am going to feel secure in my decision to keep skipping this one.
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  9. Brigid

    You know….it’s weird. A lot of contemporary YA novels that are in similar vein to Rowell have very little plotting going on as well. There was a book called A Guy in Real Life that was kind of like that. Quirky characters too. 🙁

    I’m sorry you didn’t like this Steph. It’s tough not liking a book everyone loves. I know the feeling well.
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    • Steph Sinclair

      That’s true. It seems to happen a lot more with contemporary novels. It’s also a genre that I tend to shy away from because of that. I just can’t deal with character analysis with no plot. Just no.

  10. Fangs for the Fantasy

    It sounds like you’re very like me. I’ve read so many books where I’ve had to say “I love your characters, i love your world – but where’s the story?” Without a central plot, the book feels half finished – you have amazing potential, but it’s like using still photography when you need a video camera

  11. CharleyReads

    I absolutely loved this book but i totally understand why you didn’t. For me it was a total fan service book and i soaked it up. But yeah, i can really see why people wouldn’t enjoy it even though i did

  12. Angela @ Angela's Library

    I’m sorry to hear you didn’t like Fangirl, though I respect your reasons why and really liked your review. Fangirl was almost a DNF for me, but eventually Cath’s character growth and the super-sweet romance made the book do a 180 for me, and I ended up loving it. That being said, I’m a fan of character-driven novels, and I think that’s the key to whether or not someone will like Fangirl. If character-driven books aren’t your thing, it makes sense that you didn’t care for it.
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  13. Renee Bookboyfriends

    Same I had a few issues with Fangirl as well, even though so many people were raving about it. It was good because it wasn’t something I hadn’t read before in terms of being at college and looking at growing up beyond high school, and as much as it was an emotional journey for Cath and Levi and Reagan about acceptance, you’re right about the plot and how everything was awfully convenient and they were just placed. I love good plots too and I think you’re right about it. Then again, I hadn’t read any of Rainbow Rowell’s other novels, so I guess I wasn’t bogged down by the same thing over and over like I sort of am with Sarah Dessen.
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    • Steph Sinclair

      I agree with what you said about RR writing about a character with mental illness. I was pleasantly surprised by that and I really understood Cath’s need to want to look after her dad. And I also liked that she focused on the relationship with Cath’s sister, which we don’t see a lot of in YA. So there definitely were good points to the book. If only it had more plot!

  14. Jackie

    Fangirl was my introduction to Rainbow Rowell, and I actually thought it was pretty fantastic. That being said, I understand the points you’ve made. Fangirl was pretty plotless, but I guess I didn’t mind because I’m a fan of character-driven stories, and I really appreciated the characters in this story. As for the fan fiction? I didn’t care for it. I thought it was clever when I first started reading, but then I thought it got in the way of the story that I really cared about. I ended up skipping most of it– especially when Cath was reading chapters of her story out loud to Levi.
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  15. Shannon

    Fangirl is definitely one of my favorite books, honestly. I think it just works for some people and not for others. I read this book my sophomore year of college, having just had a mid-semester anxiety freak out like Cath does. And also having drifted apart from a friend whom I was very close to (like Wren). I agree with you on your point of the characters being the strongest point, because Rainbow really gets the details down on what it’s like to have anxiety, and SOCIAL anxiety when starting college.

    I’m also hecka interested in fan culture, so that appealed to me as well. Fangirl definitely has a niche audience.

    And okay as far as plot goes, almost failing out of college and/or dropping out is a pretty fitting conflict for a protag who’s in college. The scene where Cath’s professor is talking to her after class about why she considers fanfiction plagiarism was incredibly gut wrenching to me. My heart was basically spilling out onto the table.

    Maybe I’ll do a review in more detail on my blog sometime. I’ll definitely link you to it if you want! But sorry you didn’t like it :/ I totally respect your opinion there.

  16. Jasmin

    I like how honest you are. Personally I really loved Fangirl but I never loved Rainbow Rowell’s books if you know what I mean. I read Elenor and Park after Fangirl and was disappointed. I just think she has a weird way to write and equally weird pacing.

    Fangirl was love for me because I loved Cath and Levi. Was it something special we will speak about in 50 years or so? Most likely no.

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