Published by St. Martin's Griffin on September 10th 2013
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
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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.