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Cannonball Read V: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

By narfna | Book Reviews | October 24, 2013 | Comments ()


fangirlcover.jpg

“Real life was something happening in her peripheral vision.”

So I’ve had this review open and up on my computer now for days (weeks, really, since I finished it almost a month ago now), and I just keep staring at that blank cursor, trying to figure out how to convey all these FEELINGS I am FEELING about this book.

The short of it? I loved this book, and Rainbow Rowell, miraculously, has produced not one, not two, but THREE books that I hands down LOVED this year. And not loved, like that was fun and I enjoyed it, loved like, oh man, this book stared into my soul.

The long of it? Well, that’s what I’ve been having trouble with.

“What the fuck is the fandom?”

Fangirl is Cath’s story, and in many ways it’s a very personal one. Cath is going away to college for the first time, and she’s not very happy about it. Her identical twin sister, Wren, doesn’t want to be roommates and has begun to pull away from Cath, cutting off all her hair, and for the most part, abandoning the Simon Snow fandom she and Cath had been such a huge part of for so long. Simon Snow is basically like Harry Potter in Cath’s/Rowell’s world. The whole world is obsessed with him, and no one possibly more than Cath. She takes refuge in Simon Snow when worrying about her bipolar father becomes too much, when her social anxiety gets the best of her, when she feels Wren pulling even farther away from her. And Cath has fans of her own. Her fanfic, “Carry On, Simon,” gets thousands of hits per day, and almost no one in her “real” life understands her obsession with Simon and his vampire roommate Baz (who in Cath’s world are also secretly in love with one another — so on top of being a fic writer, she’s also a slash fic writer, which puts her even more on the fringes).

Cath’s specific eccentricities aren’t ones I necessarily share, but they’re rooted in a place that feels very familiar to me. Her fear of change, her desire to lose herself in fictional worlds, her inability to connect with other people without quite a bit of effort, her fear of her dorm’s cafeteria (which is just a manifestation of the hard time she has adapting to new habits and places). But most of all, how her love of Simon Snow and the fandom she participates so actively in acts both as a refuge from the outside world, and something that further separates her from it. The ‘normals’ in her life do not understand at all what it is she does, and she takes the opportunity to use that gulf of experience to further alienate herself from those around her. See above quote, which comes form her roommate, Reagan, a brash girl who takes it upon herself to help Cath out of her shell, even though Cath would very much rather be alone.

“I feel sorry for you, and I’m going to be your friend.”
“I don’t want to be your friend,” Cath said as sternly as she could. “I like that we’re not friends.”
“Me, too. I’m sorry you ruined it by being so pathetic.”

The very weird thing about Cath and people like her (me, for instance), is that as much as we crave solitude and distance ourselves from other people very much on purpose, we also simultaneously and conversely crave the lifelines that more extroverted people extend to us, and are often grateful in hindsight for the pushes from others to get us out of our comfort zones. That’s what Reagan does for Cath (and to a certain extent, it’s what Wren used to do for Cath) — pushes her outside of her head and reminds her that she’s capable of more than she gives herself credit for, and that her fears and anxieties protect her, yes, but they also prevent her from experiencing her life.

Reagan is also hilarious. I should mention that part.

And with Reagan comes Levi (delicious, delicious Levi). The two of them comprise Cath’s social circle during her freshman year, as she tries to navigate her new semi-adult life, the pressures of school, and the perils of her major (Creative Writing), which includes a very cute boy slash writing partner named Nick, and a professor that Cath very much looks up to and wants to impress.

If all of this sounds boring, I apologize. Because Fangirl is anything but boring. Cath’s inner life is rich and complicated, full of conflicting desires and feelings. Rainbow Rowell’s characters, and by extension her dialogue, fairly leap off the page. They feel real in a way that characters rarely do in fiction, and the situations they find themselves in, the things they say, feel like things people would actually say. They feel like things my friends and I would say. They feel like friends.

“I’d rather pour myself into a world I love and understand than try to make something up out of nothing.”

Besides the novelty of reading a book about a girl who might actually exist in real life, probably the most notable thing about Fangirl is the way that it engages with fan culture. People who participate in fan culture (and I’m not talking about casual participation here) are set apart from people who don’t. Fan culture is like Fight Club — the first rule is that you don’t talk about Fight Club Fan Culture. And not because it’s something to be ashamed of inherently, but because it’s something that people who don’t participate do not understand. And speaking from experience, regardless of whether or not non-participants actually look down upon participants, there’s this pervasive sense that the shaming is happening behind your back anyway. Fanfiction is not real writing. Fanfiction is plagiarism. Fanfiction is for people who can’t think up their own ideas.

The genius of Fangirl is that while it’s busying demystifying fans and fandom and deshaming them in the process, it also acknowledges that those are actual thoughts people might have (i.e. the reaction of Cath’s professor, or Reagan’s initial reaction — again, see above), it also suggests that the more important realization to be had here is that these are fears Cath also secretly has about herself. Cath loses herself in fanfiction for good reasons, but for bad ones as well. It’s easier for her to keep playing around in Simon’s world than to find herself in her own writing.

“You give away nice like it doesn’t cost you anything.”

So yeah, Fangirl is about growing up and writing and making friends and the power of communities and the bonds between families, but it’s also about love, something else that Cath is afraid to open herself up to. I’m not going to say too much about this aspect of the plot because I don’t want to spoil it, but I will say that Cath falling in love hit me like a ton of bricks to the stomach. I love how Rainbow writes Cath falling in love the same way she writes the way Cath lives, how she keeps everything inside to protect herself, and how satisfying it is when she finally lets herself give in.

I read this book fast and I read it hard, and when I was done I wanted to start all over again. Rainbow Rowell is good. She’s very good. And if she continues to write books like this, I can’t promise I won’t lose my damn mind every time I read one.

This review is part of the volunteer Cannonball Read V. Read all about it , and find more of narfna’s reviews on the group blog.

(Note: Any revenue generated from purchases made through the amazon.com affiliate links
in this this review will be donated in entirety to the American Cancer Society.)


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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • lowercase_see

    OKAY FINE I'VE BOUGHT IT.

    If I get fired for reading instead of working, I'll have that much more time to comment and bitch.

  • The Mama

    Fantastic review. I stumbled across Fangirl on Netgalley and this was the first Rowell book I read. I don't think I moved once I opened it. I loved the shit out of this book, and then I loved the shit out of her other two, and then I was sad that I had binge read them all and had nothing else to look forward to in my life.
    As an aside, do you know that Fangirl was a NaNoWriMo project? I always think I can write a novel, until I read something like this.

  • narfna

    Ugh, somehow that makes me feel even less up to the task this November.

  • Malin

    This is my second favourite Rowell book, the first is still Attachments. With Eleanor and Park a very close third. Frankly, I love all three of these books like the children I would like to have one day, and I will buy anything Rowell sees fit to publish. I will pre-order it even, and keep buying her books as presents for my friends, in a desperate attempt to increase her readership as much as possible.

  • narfna

    I just laughed out loud at the idea of you one day telling your third kid that they are second favorite, that your firstborn is still your favorite, but don't worry second child, you're a really close third.

  • mswas

    My mother-in-law told each of her boys when the other wasn't around, "You're really my favorite."

  • narfna

    That is adorable.

  • Malin

    As of yet I am childless, but based on the track record of my grandmother and father, this is not an entirely unlikely scenario. Besides, even if I don't say it out loud to them, I'll totally have a favourite (parents who tell you differently are probably lying). I favour one cat over the other, after all.

  • narfna

    This is quickly going to become a cat lady thread but I will say this anyway. I love my cat more that I raised from a kitten because he is my baby and he thinks I gave birth to him, but the other one that I adopted as an adult is way cuddlier, even if she is just using me for her own pleasure. Maybe if I had raised her from a kitten?

  • Malin

    My cats are from the same litter, they're brother and sister. I've had them for nearly ten years, raising them since they were kittens. I feel bad about it, but being entirely honest, I love the girl cat more than the boy cat. Because of this, I don't harbour any illusions about myself, I will quite possibly love one child more than its hypothetical siblings.

  • Modernlove

    Ahhh I just read this book over the weekend and yes. I loved it so hard, I've read one of her other books and need to get the third. It was just such a charming, sweet, well-done book. I had to go to a wedding that involved a train ride to the ceremony site and was reading it on the train because I wanted to see what happened next.

  • narfna

    Which one haven't you read? Attachments is my favorite of hers. So lovely and swoony and smart.

  • Modernlove

    That's the one I haven't read yet! I've heard nothing but good things so it's next on the list.

  • mswas

    That's the only one I've read so far myself, Attachments. LOVED IT!

  • Scootsa1000

    I loved all three, but Attachments is the one that will always stick with me. I don't think a day goes by where I don't think about it or recommend it. So damn good.

  • axis2clusterB

    This sounds right up my alley!

  • Strand

    Will give it a looksee. I read Rowell's Eleanor & Park last week and it reminded me of every awkward, naive, teenage feeling I ever had. It was surreal, and not just because I was a somewhat gangly and nerdy halfie kid who listened to The Cure and had a thing for redheads. But that end? OOohhhh The Feels.

  • stella

    Wait, this is the author of Eleanor and Park? Awesome.

  • narfna

    Yes, and every single one of her books has been stellar.

  • cynzano

    Thank you narfna! After reading the book, I was so involved in Cath's world that I just finished listening to the audio. Highly recommended and Maxwell Caulfield performs the fan fiction and canon with a fabulous plummy delivery. I read Attachments and Eleanor & Park this month. I am about Rainbow Rowell this month. Can't wait for the new book. Also, did you see the author's Pinterest page with the wonderful fan art?

  • DataAngel

    So is there fanfiction for a novel about a person who writes fanfiction about a novel? In the book, is her fanfiction so popular that people write fanfiction about it? Is there fanfiction about fanfiction in a novel that's about fanfiction? Do you like beans? Do you like George Wendt? Would you like to eat beans with George Wendt?

  • BWeaves

    I think I'll wait for the furry, erotic, fanfic version.

  • DataAngel

    "Fifty Words for Snow"?

  • narfna

    Well, I know there's at least one fanfic on the internet about this book because I just found it right now, but it features the main characters. What would really be trippy if someone wrote a fanfic for Simon Snow. I forgot to mention it in my review, but interspersed throughout the book are selections of Cath's Baz/Simon fanfic, and there's enough there that some enterprising person could probably write a fanfic about a fanfic in a fictional book about fanfic.

  • Malin

    Now THAT is fan fic I would read. I so want to read the Simon Snow books, they seemed awesome. As I said in my own review of Fangirl, I do tend to get very caught up in my fiction within fiction. I would totally have devoured the Misery books as a teenager, that's for sure.

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