Author: Rainbow Rowell
Genre: Contemporary, YA, Fandom Culture (yes, that’s totally a genre)
Published: 2013, St. Martin’s Press
Rating: ★★★★★ -> 4 1/2
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 was fun. Did I have one too many flashbacks to my first year of university while reading it? Yes. Did it make me grateful for my own ridiculous experiences, for the friends I made, the things I learned? Hell yes.
Because Levi is exactly right when he tells Cath that “Months are different in college, especially freshman year. Too much happens. Every freshman month equals six regular months—they’re like dog months.” And I was so glad that, unlike in 90210 apparently, Cath and Wren’s dad stayed in the picture. That was one thing I struggled with a lot in my first year; it’s easy to feel pulled in two directions, especially when you’re living on your own for the first time. So obviously I related a lot to Cath, and her awkwardness, and her authenticity as a complex and flawed character.
Speaking of which, I loved the sincerity of the friendships, of the relationships. I’d heard that Rowell knew how to write a cast of complex characters, and I wasn’t disappointed. Cath doesn’t just go to school and make friends; she’s slowly pulled out of her shell, forced into situations she’s uncomfortable with, has her naivety challenged, and she learns how to balance her family, her independence, and her dreams.
And Levi. God, where can I get a Levi? I know I’m three years late to the party, but please, has someone figured this out by now? I loved how he and Reagan took Cath for who she was, and didn’t try to change her. It was a nice contrast to Wren’s relationship with Courtney.
I also really enjoyed the fanfiction aspect. I definitely didn’t find it as intriguing as the main plot, but I thought it was creative and added dimension to the story. Plus, I’ll admit, I’ve written fanfiction, I’ve read fanfiction, and I think an awareness of it in normal fiction is incredibly important these days. It’s a wealth of writing that often goes overlooked, and I’m so glad this book captured that.
One of my only qualms with it all was that one of the characters directly mentions Harry Potter at one point. I mean, hello? Don’t go to the trouble of writing a fictional version of Harry Potter (kids fantasy series that takes place in a remote magical school from the 90’s to early 2000’s, 7/8 books, centred around the ‘chosen one’ trope, generational phenomenon, movie adaptations, complete with a booming fandom rife with slash) and then shoot it in the face by acknowledging the existence of the thing you’re pastiching. What’s the point?
But still, I was so inspired by Fangirl. It really reminds you of the importance of good relationships, of following your dreams, and being true to the wonderfully weird in you.
Like Cath and Simon Snow, I kept not wanting it to end. I saw the pages dwindling and thought, ‘No, not yet, just give me a little more time…’ That said, I think venturing into Fangirl fanfiction might be a little too meta for me, but the theme of the book really does circle back on itself: stories continue, even without their authors, in the minds of their readers. It’s that beautiful fact that reminds us of why we read at all.