When I first came across this novel I knew I had to have it. Beautiful front cover? Check. A nerdy bookish protagonist who is overenthusiastic about her fictional characters? Check. An anxious introvert girl struggling with adapting to life at university? Check, check and check! Not to mention quirkiness abound. There was no way I wasn’t going to love this novel and I am so happy that it didn’t disappoint. This was my first time reading a Rainbow Rowell book and you can bet I will be searching out more in the future. This author is so damn adorable!
Also, this review is going to be a long one because I have a lot to say! You may want to grab a cup of tea. 😉
Cath is a Simon Snow fan.
Okay, so 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 the 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? And does she ever want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?
Rowell has the kind of writing I always adore. It’s playful, she likes to have fun messing around with her word choices and sentence structures and you can tell that she thrives off the written word. There’s so much energy in her prose and it rubbed off on me as a reader. She weaves the story of Fangirl in a way that feels effortless, and has the ability to convey so much about a character or a situation in a few simple sentences. My love of authors with quirky writing styles is steadily growing, it’s definitely something I gravitate towards now and will continue to do so because the style is so enjoyable to read. Rowell manages to capture perfectly the feelings of leaving home and being dropped into a bizarre situation. She has the weird detergenty smell of halls down, the unsettling feeling of waking up with so many familiar objects in unfamiliar surroundings and I especially loved how she compared moving to university/college like being in a sci-fi novel. ‘No little kids…Nobody over thirty…Where are all the old people?’ Lol, touché Rowell, touché. I also found it quite refreshing to read a YA book using the third person as I haven’t come across one of those in a while, first person seems to be more popular at the moment.
Where the author truly shines however is through her dialogue which had me grinning and laughing out loud. Rowell is brilliant at writing entertaining conversations and I’m a bit jealous actually. Dialogue was always the biggest weakness in my own writing and I wish I could ask the author for tips!
“Dad. Why haven’t you called me? I left you a million messages.”
“You left me too many messages. You shouldn’t be calling me or even thinking about me. You’re in college now. Move on.”
“It’s just school, Dad. It’s not like we have irreconcilable differences.”
“Honey, I’ve watched a lot of 90210. The parents weren’t even on the show once Brandon and Brenda went to college. This is your time – you’re supposed to be going to frat parties and getting back together with Dylan.”
“Why does everyone want me to go to frat parties?”
“Who wants you to go to frat parties? I was just kidding. Don’t hang out with frat guys, Cath, they’re terrible. All they do is get drunk and watch 90210.” – Pg63
What’s most apparent to me is Rowell’s lack of dialogue tags. If you pick up any writing book out there it will tell you tags like ‘she said suddenly’ and ‘he said apologetically’ are tricksy bad traps writers fall into, but most writers still use them anyway because they feel the need to. Rowell shows that you really don’t need them no matter how much you feel otherwise. Her writing is far better and snappy because of it. If nothing else, this novel should be given to every wannabe writer to help them break the bad habit!
The plot of Fangirl was for the most part, excellent. I easily fell into Cath’s world and enjoyed the story until the very last page. Fangirl wasn’t ridiculously deep or annoyingly shallow, it managed to tread the path in between perfectly making it a fun and rewarding read. I especially loved how Rowell showed both sides of university life. There’s Cath, the shy and nervous introvert who struggles to cope with the living away from home and then there’s Wren, Cath’s twin sister who thrusts herself into the melee of the student lifestyle and has the time of her life partying into the late hours and enjoying her freedom. I felt like this made the story more rounded. There were other choices Rowell made that I wasn’t so sure about however, I didn’t particularly feel that the Simon Snow fanfiction excerpts following after each chapter added anything, they seemed a bit unnecessary but I got more into them as the book went on. The Simon Snow fandom also had clear parallels with Harry Potter and I wasn’t too sure how I felt about that. I was also incredibly annoyed about the story line where Cath got in trouble with her fiction writing lecturer for reasons I can’t mention because of spoilers! These were all little things though and didn’t overly impact my enjoyment of the novel.
Fangirl kept a pretty consistent pace throughout, although I did feel it lagged a bit in the middle. However, this was possibly down to me rather than the author. When I neared the middle of the book I was feeling a bit disillusioned with university life in general, so when I had the opportunity to read during assignment breaks I wanted to relax and escape university life not plunge even further into it! For this reason Fangirl went on the back burner for a while until I could enjoy it more. Plus, I’m not going to lie, reading this book was really physically uncomfortable for me at times. So many of Cath’s feelings, fears and anxieties were similar to mine just last year during my first year of university and it was difficult returning to some of those emotions which were still quite raw for me.
Of course, I can’t review this book without touching on Cath’s fangirl tendencies. Although I consider myself a fangirl I have never investigated the world of fanfiction. Oddly it is something I’ve never felt the need to get into. I think it’s great that so many fans out there keep their favourite stories alive through their own writing. Personally I have always felt a sense of closure in the way authors finish off a book or series and have never felt the need to search out new material other than the ideas that materialize inside my own head. Because of this I was excited to see Rowell tackle to topic and was interested in how accessible she would make it. I think she did a great job of portraying fanfiction in a positive light, showing how it can be a wonderful and amazing experience to connect with other fans around the internet. While reading I found myself relating to Cath’s love of fanfiction because it paralleled a lot with how I currently feel about blogging.
Although I enjoyed Rowell’s portrayal of fandoms and fangirling I can also understand why some readers have gotten annoyed. Cath is introverted, anxious, antisocial and a bit of a loner and uses fanfiction to escape reality. While this is a perfectly valid and common reason, I can see that some readers may have been annoyed because this reinforces a lot of existing stereotypes that fangirls (or fanboys for the matter) are using fandoms to fill a hole in their life because they are lacking in some other area. I’m sure this aspect of the novel will be continually debated for some time. Is it unfair or realistic? It would be nice to see a competent and completely content protagonist embracing fanfiction but then again, if Rowell had gone that route this would have been a very different story, and would it have resonated with as many readers? I doubt it.
I loved Cath’s character. It is heavily hinted at that she suffers with anxiety; she has had panic attacks in the past and anything overly social sends Cath into a flurry of panic. She has a terror of the banal and ordinary, things most people wouldn’t think twice about or comprehend as being difficult, like eating in the public dining hall or going to a party. She is scared to take risks or step out of her comfort zone and because of this she avoids things, which then builds them up into an even scarier mountain she has to climb. In college where everything is strange and foreign she wants to cling to what is comforting, her sister, her father and Simon Snow. She struggles to find the balance between her old and new life and where she fits within it. I think most people can relate to this on some level, we’ve all avoided things, been scared to take a risk or felt discombobulated when entering a new stage of our life such as moving to a new place or starting a new job. I haven’t related to a character this much in a long time. Cath was similar to me in a lot of ways, and yet entirely different in others. I can understand that some readers may find Cath frustrating because she doesn’t help herself in a lot of ways and can be standoffish and ridged in her beliefs and behaviours. I think whether readers like Cath will depend entirely on whether they can empathise with her and understand what she is going through.
Many of the secondary character were also great, I found Cath’s twin sister, Wren interesting although she actually receives little page time due to the sisters being in a fight for the majority of the novel. To Wren, university is a fresh start. As a twin Wren’s life has always been a package deal and Cath has held her back to an extent. Wren wants to know what it feel like to be Wren, not Wren and Cath. Although she is not that likable throughout the book and I really wanted to scream at her at points, I could understand the reasoning behind everything she did and found her predicament interesting.
I adored Levi’s character and his thousand smiles. His positive over-friendly approach to life was so endearing and balanced out Cath’s anti-social personality perfectly. I think everyone needs a Levi in their life to spread a little extra happy. Not to mention he was totally swoon-worthy which is always a plus. In the scene where Cath helps him with his English assignment I nearly died from an overdose of adorableness.
Reagan, Cath’s roommate works as the traditional YA best friend and gets tones of sarcastic dialogue which was fun to read. However, I really am fed up of the under-developed best friend characters that are in these books. They are all the same which irritates me.
My last mention goes out to Nick’s character, Cath’s friend from fiction writing classes. Rowell got him spot on, he reminded me of every single guy in the creative writing classes I had to take during my first year, why is it that all the guys in them want to be the next George Orwell or Anthony Burgess? Always attempting to write the same kind of gritty and social scathing tales that aren’t actually gritty or scathing at all!
Overall this was a great, solid book and I would definitely recommend it. All the hype around Rainbow Rowell is for good reason; she knows how to weave a story with flair and creates some lovable characters to boost. I would recommend this book to males or females 13+, especially those of the nerdy fangirl or fanboy introvert variety because they will find themselves reflected in the pages. While this book would technically fall into the New Adult genre Rowell still considers it herself to be Young Adult, which she kindly told me via twitter. 🙂
And if you’re not asleep by the end of this review, CONGRATULATIONS you have survived my waffle which is even longer than the usual!!!
Writing Style: 4/5
Character Development: 4/5
Would I recommend this book? Yes!
Overall Impression: 4/5
Book Cover: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16068905-fangirl?ac=1