Book Review: Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell

SHELVES: Young adult, contemporary, romance
MORE INFO: Goodreads
DATE READ: 12 January 2014
RATING: ★★★½
SUMMARY: 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 fan fiction, 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 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 fan fiction 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? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

REVIEW: When I first read about Fangirl, I was pretty hesitant because I’m always a little cautious about works that discuss fandom. I’ve been active in fandom for a few years, so I know how ugly and irritating it gets, and I wasn’t sure how Rainbow Rowell would handle it. And the summary didn’t help.

It wasn’t until I actually read the book that I realized the summary had a poor grasp of the book and was pretty misleading. Cath’s fiction professor isn’t an evil, fanfiction-hating old person as is implied, the “handsome classmate” is pretty less than,  and the book doesn’t revolve around Cath’s problems with leaving fandom behind and growing up without her twin.

A more accurate and compelling summary would discuss Cath’s journey to grow as a person in a university setting, which I found to be one of the most appealing parts of the novel. Rowell writes about Cath’s struggle with social anxiety without making her protagonist a tragic heroine who can’t grow or change on her own. And while Cath has been dependent on her sister in the past, the summary inaccurately portrays her as clinging onto Wren, when Cath learns to do things without thinking of what Wren would do.

The summary also completely neglects to mention Cath’s relationship with her father, with whom she relates regarding how dependent they can be on other people. The dynamic between Cath and her father is a major theme in the book, and their relationship helps Cath realize that she can be her own person without only identifying with Simon Snow and Wren.

Fangirl is unique in that it’s a story in a story—more like two stories in a story. Rowell created two universes, Simon Snow and Cath’s world, in her story. What helped me relate Simon Snow to our own universe is substituting it with Harry Potter and the Simon/Baz pairing with Harry/Draco, a familiar fandom and pairing to the fandom world.

Maybe it’s because I just can’t relate to fangirls love slash pairings, but it was difficult for me to identify with Cath as a fangirl. Her love of Simon Snow revolved around writing tons of fic for a slash pairing that I compared to Drarry, which I have more than a little contempt for. However, I enjoyed the way Rowell portrayed the fanfiction community, since I’ve been actively reading fanfiction for over four years.

One of my minor hangups with Fangirl was the names of the characters. I really don’t like when YA characters need to have special and unique names that no parent would actually ever choose, and that’s how I originally felt. However, we learn that the reason for Cath, whose full name is Cather, and Wren’s names is that their mother didn’t know she was having twins (which is way more sketchy than their names—wouldn’t a doctor let his patient know she was carrying twins, you know, for financial reasons?), so she had only chosen one name, Catherine. When the twins were born, she split the name in two, and BAM, Catherine becomes Cather and Wren. Pretty brilliant.

Levi and his siblings are all named after books in the Old Testament, so his full name is Leviticus. A realistic nickname for a less than realistic first name. We never find out why Reagan’s name is Reagan, but it doesn’t really matter because it just makes her sound more badass than she already is.

Continuing with the topic of names, Cath and Wren’s usernames on Fanfixx (the fictional online platform Rowell created for fanfiction) are really awesome. I have, of course, been on the quest for the perfect username that’s a combination of wit, sass, and humor, and Cath and Wren (or more accurately, Rainbow Rowell) have found theirs, naming themselves Magicath and Wrenegade, respectively. Wow, I’m jealous.

I also really enjoyed Cath and Levi’s growing romance. Cath’s worries about their relationship were very realistic, given her anxiety and awkwardness in social situations. Their relationship unfolded gradually and naturally, with all the speed bumps that life has along the way. It was beautiful because it was real (and I avoid calling fictional relationships beautiful in a serious situation, so this carries a lot of weight).

I gave Fangirl three and a half stars because the ending was kind of disjointed. It didn’t make sense for Cath to just not care about finishing writing her Simon/Baz fanfic Carry On, Simon before the release of the last Simon Snow book when it was so important to her for the majority of the novel. Also the pacing was a little slow at times, and some parts felt longer than they needed to be.

However, I really enjoyed the novel overall, and not just as a piece of contemporary YA fiction. I would recommend this book to people who are familiar or aren’t familiar with the world of fandom, as it is interesting to relate to if you are and a solid introduction to online fandom if you aren’t.


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