Rainbow Rowell – Fangirl
71. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (2013)
Length: 464 pages
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Fiction / Romance
Started: 02 November 2015
Finished: 03 November 2015
Where did it come from? Loaned to me by a friend.
Why do I have it? I liked Rainbow Rowell’s books and probably would have gotten to it eventually, but my friend loved it and wanted other people to read it so we could talk about it.
Cath spends most her time
escaping into fiction.
College is too real.
Summary: Cath’s life was pretty comfortable in high school. Even though her mom left when they were young, she had her dad, her twin sister Wren, and their shared obsession with the Simon Snow series of books, which Cath has channeled into writing increasingly popular fan fiction. But now they’re starting college, and everything is changing – and Cath is sure it’s all changing for the worse. Wren decided she didn’t want to room with Cath, so now Cath has to deal with her intimidating roommate, Reagan, and her charming but inscrutable quasi-boyfriend, Levi. Reagan doesn’t understand Cath’s obsession with Simon Snow, and Cath’s writing professor thinks that fan-fiction is intellectually bankrupt and basically worthless. But writing about Simon is what Cath’s good at – she’s certainly not good at talking to new people or coping with new situations – that’s always been Wren’s job to take the lead. But now that she’s on her own, she’s going to have to take a leap and figure out who she is without the things that have always defined her.
Review: I loved this book. I maybe shouldn’t have been surprised – I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read of Rowell’s so far – but this one was really, really good. I devoured this book: stayed up too late reading it, sat anxiously through work the next day, got home and read it and stayed up too late again to finish it.
I think what I liked most about it was how much I identified with Cath. Not necessarily the fan-fiction thing, or even the fandom thing in general – I don’t remember ever feeling ashamed of how much I loved “nerdy” things – but just her general outlook, and her anxiety. Rainbow Rowell is one of the authors who is very good at capturing a specific feeling, of making it real and getting it right, and with Cath, she absolutely nails the anxious “everything is changing and it’s almost certainly all a change for the worse and I don’t know what I’m doing but everyone around me apparently does” first-semester-of-college feeling. Or really, first time doing anything new and scary and outside your comfort zone where you have to stretch yourself. Cath’s anxiety issues were also incredibly relatable, and another thing Rowell gets right is what it’s like to live with anxiety, with this looming ball of unfocused dread. For example, this passage:
“And she thought about winning. About how she was letting this win, whatever this was – the crazy inside of her. Cath, zero. Crazy, one million. –p. 40”
I read that, and I was like: yes. Yes, that is exactly what that is like. I have dealt with anxiety issues for upwards of 15 years now, and I have had that exact conversation with myself more times than I can count. In general, Rowell deals with Cath’s mental health issues in a gentle and compassionate way, not demonizing or dismissing them, but recognizing them as real legitimate forces that aren’t her fault, but that have the potential to shape her life if she lets them. Therefore, I was a little let down by the ending – I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler for a YA romance to say that Cath winds up in a relationship by the end – and I didn’t like the fact that it seemed like her anxiety issues were more or less entirely cured by the addition of a boyfriend. It wasn’t quite as pat as that, of course, but she does get quite a lot better very quickly (as does Wren, as does the twins’ damaged relationship) in a way that didn’t feel quite as realistic to me as most of the rest of the book.
But apart from that, I loved this book. I loved Cath, I loved Reagan and Levi, I loved Wren and Cath’s dad and their changing relationship with him, I loved that the drama didn’t feel manufactured, I loved that Cath’s relationship with her mom was left still kind of unresolved and not magically fixed, I loved the humor, I loved how well little recognizable and universal college moments are captured in a way that’s still specific to the story, I loved watching Cath stand up for herself with her writing partner, I loved that Rowell invented a whole secondary world and built a whole sub-story about Simon Snow into this book (and yes, I’ve since read Carry On and loved that too, but that’s a different review.) The whole thing was so good and a fast read and made me grin like an idiot and probably cry a bit (mostly happy tears) and just gave me the warm and fuzzies, which is exactly what a book like this should do. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: Definitely recommended, especially if you like Eleanor & Park, contemporary YA more generally, Harry Potter (or some other fandom), or just really good, funny books that get things right. I’ll be re-reading it at some point (probably soon), without a doubt.
Other Reviews: Bunches and bunches of them at the Book Blogs Search Engine.
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.
First Line: There was a boy in her room.
“I find Ugg boots really comforting,” Cath said.
“Why? Because they’re warm?”
“No. Because they remind me that we live in a place where you can still get away with, even get excited about, Ugg boots. In fashionable places, you have to pretend that you’re over them, or that you’ve always hated them. But in Nebraska, you can still be happy about new Ugg boots. That’s nice. There’s no end of the innocence.” — p. 256
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