Two for two, rainbow Rowell.
Meaning: I read the book, wasn’t sure if I liked it, and after mulling it over and over…
Well, you’ll see.
Starting her freshman year in college, Cath is separated from her twin sister, Wren, for the first time in her life. And she is terrified. Who else could she possibly talk to? Who else understands her introverted personality? Who else could possibly tolerate her obsessive addiction to the Simon Snow series?
College without Wren will push Cath’s limits. With a roommate whose boyfriend always seems to be around, an advanced writing course with a professor who thinks fanfiction (Cath’s specialty) is the death of literature, and a father who also struggles with manic tendencies, Cath might have to put aside her quiet, fangirl ways.
But it’s been a part of her life for so long. Cath doesn’t know what she is without it.
I find it ironic that I’m reading this after reading The Spectacular Now, because to some extent, they are the same story: a protagonist is afraid of growing up. There are family problems, there’s denial and isolation, there’s romance and small revelations, and there’s an overall sense that nothing has really changed.
But unlike The Spectacular Now, Fangirl isn’t a tragedy by any means. It’s a romcom through and through. Even to the point where it doesn’t really feel like there’s a plot. Sure, Cath can’t write an original story and she has to finish her fanfiction and she finally has a boyfriend of the first time. But every issue that came up was handled almost as quickly as it came up, and I wish they were fleshed out a bit more.
The place where I thought we were going to get some substance in this story was the extremely emotionally unstable family. That, and the romance seemed like it was going somewhere significant.
And to some extent, it does. But the family problems were almost waved away, and I had a hard time believing in the chemistry between Levi and Cath.
If you’re going to read this book for any reason at all, it’s the characters. I don’t know how Rowell does it, but she makes characters that aren’t necessarily likeable, but they make you want to root for them anyways. Cath is a perfect example of this.
Cath is annoying. She’s ridiculously insecure, she’s convinced she can’t do anything except write fanfiction, her introverted levels are absolutely through the roof. Part of the reason that I find her annoying is probably because I can identify with her to a certain level. As if Rowell took all my nerdy insecurities—and only those insecurities—threw them together, ramped them up to exponential levels and made a character. Combine that with her familial duty and I can’t not root for her.
Conversely, Levi’s a little too perfect. I know he has flaws, but they just aren’t that character rounding. The only reason I don’t like him is because there’s nothing to not like (if that makes sense).
Unlike in Eleanor and Park, Rowell’s side cast here is diverse and well developed. Cath’s family, Reagan, Nate, Dr. Piper, and Courtney are all well constructed characters, and they each have an important role to play.
One of the interesting things about Fangirl is that the narrative is interrupted with small excerpts of either Cath’s beloved book series, Simon Snow, or her fanfiction. I almost want to read Simon Snow…except I think my brain would scream “HARRY POTTER RIP OFF” the entire time, even though it is made very clear that Simon Snow is not Harry Potter.
Cath’s voice is an interesting point of view. Yes, her more neurotic tendencies can be a little…irritating, and at points she is hopelessly naive, but Rowell does a good job of capturing all of her insecurities. My favourite line is her description of Cath when she’s writing:
That was the beauty in stacking up words—they got cheaper, the more you had of them. It would feel good to come back and cut this when she’d worked her way to something better.
My biggest problem is the really loose plot. I didn’t expect it to be tightly written scenes, and I didn’t expect it to have everything neatly tied up in the end. But I didn’t expect to be so hand wavy either. The whole novel felt like I was being dragged in circles only to suddenly have everything come to a rather abrupt and awkward close.
This is a story about fear. Fear of human interaction, of not being good enough, of letting things go, of trying something new. And I can relate to that a lot. Cath’s struggles with writing were particularly interesting to me.
The book just doesn’t address everything it sets out to, and that’s a rather shame because there are a lot of good ideas here. Even just with the idea of twins and the whole identity crisis that stems from that. Or the idea that writing from experience is scary. Or the fear of being compared to the greats. There are even points where the stigma against fangirling is sort of pushed to the side.
Fangirl is full of interesting ideas, but I feel like not all of it was fully explored. I definitely want more story, to fill in and expand the holes in plot. But for what was given, it was enjoyable enough to get me to finish it.
Am I in a rush to read it again? Not really.
Will I be on a book hangover off this? Definitely. I’m going to be digesting this story for a few days. I’m very mixed about it.
Recommendation: Read. This is a book for you if you’ve ever felt alienated by your love of a fictional world—especially if the alienation was something you made for yourself.