Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

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Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

A coming-of-age tale of fan fiction, 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 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?


[This Book in One Sentence: 18-year-old Cath loves fan fiction, her identical twin sister, and Simon Snow, but these relationships and more are threatened when she starts college.]

Fangirl has been on every fandom-lover’s shelf since its publication. The premise is cute, original, and what’s more, I can strongly relate to Cath’s experiences. When I was in high school, Harry Potter fan fiction was sometimes the only thing that kept me going. (Although… I’m a steadfast Dramione shipper. I just can’t do Drarry; sorry gals.)

Forget boys, or girl friends, or prom; fan fiction never turned away from me while everyone else did. Absorbing myself into words, whether on-page or online, allowed me to go anywhere I wanted to while really sobbing in my room because I could never fit in no matter how hard I tried. Fangirl recognizes that pain and takes us on an adventure with Cath.

Cath is an 18-year-old girl on the cusp of a rewarding college education. She’s terrified. She has never been separated from her identical twin sister, and now Wren wants to meet new people. Wren’s the outgoing, pretty, reasonable one. Cath is the freaky, anxious, fiction-obsessed sibling.

Cath has ridden on the coattails of Wren’s social life for dances, parties and gatherings. But alone? She can’t even traverse the dining hall without feeling doomsday-level panic. However, Cath is a genius when it comes to the written word. She is Magicath–the famous, anonymous author of a gay Simon Snow fanfic that receives tens of thousands of hits every week. Consequently, her test scores and writing skills lead to acceptance into a junior-level Fiction Writing course, taught by a famed novelist.

But can Cath ignore the pounding anxiety and the feelings of fear whenever she encounters someone she doesn’t know well? We’ll see.

Rainbow Rowell is remarkably apt at dialogue and characterizations. If I could give her a letter grade for her character-building skills, it would be an A+++. From Cath, Wren and their neurotic father to Reagan, Nick and the mother who left them, everyone is alive. They walked, talked and fought like people you’d actually know. I adored their little quirks–recognizable and realistic.

But. Characterization does not make a story. It’s necessary for quality writing, and yet even an amazing character will get boring if he/she is just walking around with no destination or purpose. That is Fangirl‘s very loud and obvious problem, and alas, also why it had to be demoted one star.

There were so many opportunities for a meatier plot–beautiful chances to let the characters grow in a meaningful way. Rowell threw it all away. I almost wanted to cry.

Although she allowed Cath’s character to grow, facing new and old challenges alike, the plot itself was stunted. Trapped. Okay, so she’s in college. Her sister is drinking. Her dad can’t handle being on his own. Her roommate is grumpy. Her classes are hard. These are elements to capitalize on, not place on the sidelines so that the character can focus on the most unimportant plot point.

Towards the end, Fangirl felt like a cheapened romance novel wherein the story gave up so many chances to be great, instead focusing on a guy who could “make her happy” or “fix her.” No. No way. That won’t fly with me. Maybe others feel differently, but that’s the impression that I got.

The story should have focused on Cath’s progression in her actual college classes, particularly in her fiction class. She is a writer. Not some lovestruck flirt. Well, she can be both, but a larger focus on her education, mistakes, and consequences would have made the story much better.

If not that, then there should have at least been more of a climax. Of course, this isn’t a save-the-world type of story, but the stagnant plot style made me so angry. Fangirl had potential. I feel like it’s some teenager, and I’m yelling, “YOU THREW YOUR LIFE AWAY!!!”

This was still an addictive read, and I regrettably enjoyed it even after deciding that the plot wasn’t for me. So, 3 1/2 stars with the understanding that a thicker plot would have merited 4 1/2 stars. >.>

I’d recommend this book to anyone who’s ever been obsessed with fan fiction, had problems with anxiety, or been called a “freak” or “nerd.” These may sound like negative recommendations, but at least two of these three attributes have been shared by the greatest intellectuals and geniuses of alltime. Read it, man.

Fangirl was originally published on January 1st, 2013 by St. Martin’s Press.

5 thoughts on “Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

  1. cwreads says:

    Hmmm, this book sounds interesting. Tbh with you, ever since I heard about Rowell’s sloppy, racist representation of Asian characters in Eleanor and Park, I’ve been reaaaaaally hesitant to try her books.

    But with regards to Fangirl, do you think someone, who never read a lot of fanfiction (or any for that matter), could enjoy the book? I want to try at least one of her books, but am not sure which one. :<

    Like

    • Vitani says:

      Hey girl, thanks for the comment! I think that if you’ve ever considered yourself a “nerd girl” or been nervous about social situations, then you could really relate to Cath. (I know I could!) The characters truly shine, but if you can’t relate to them, it might be hard to enjoy the story. This was an addictive but disappointing read. I’m glad that I read it, but… I’m sad at the same time, if that makes sense. Bleh. It’s definitely a new kind of YA story, though. It’s refreshing.

      Like

      • cwreads says:

        Hmm, I think I would’ve considered myself a nerd girl – so maybe I will give it a go! I guess we’ll see! c: I’ll let you know what I thought about it when I read it, and I’ll go in reading it with a grain of salt! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Wesaun @ Oreos and Books says:

    I loved Fangirl, but I thought your review was really indepth and thoughtful. Also, I’m sorry you didn’t feel like you fit in in high school. I feel like I watched so many shows and movies seeing this happen when I was in the primary section of elementary school that I ended up learning early and I just ended up not bothering to try to fit in. You know? And it’s not like even when you have an ideal, you don’t occasionally fall back into what you disagree with, but it’s not worth it. To try to be like all these other people. To be the same. For what? Where is the FUN in that? Everyone’s so focused on themselves, that no one really cares about you anyway and when they do it’s because you’re doing your own thing, and that makes them insecure. Why, I’ll never know. Thanks for following Oreos & Books
    -Wesaun @ Oreos & Books (oreoandbooks.wordpress.com)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Krista says:

      Hey there, thanks for the response! Yeah. I definitely learned a little too late. High school was, um, a mess, so imagine my gleefulness when I found that the story of Harry Potter wasn’t over! I always wanted Hermione and Draco to get together. I’d spend Friday nights reading fan fiction. I distinctly remember cancelling a lasagna dinner so that I could stay home and read instead. I was an odd teenager.

      Liked by 1 person

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