Sunday, July 26, 2015

Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Title: Fangirl
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Published Date: 10 September 2013
Buy: Amazon | The Book Depository | Dymocks Australia

From the author of the New York Times bestseller Eleanor & Park.

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?

"Touching and utterly real." —  Publisher's Weekly
(summary from Goodreads)

Fangirl is an emotional coming of age story about all the things that define us.

It took me a little bit to get into Fangirl. It was slow to start and I found the writing a little clunky. At times the prose was dense, with a feeling like I was reading and reading but getting nowhere fast. Really though, this is a minor complaint, as the story and its characters make this book in the end. I mention it first up though as I think for some readers, like myself, an extra push may be needed. Cath kept me reading Fangirl. I found her to be an incredibly relatable character, encompassing so many of the worries and fears that I, and I'm sure many others, face at one time or another. Like her worry about eating at the dining hall, about deciding where to set, etc - the memories that brought back of my own fears navigating the dining hall while I was in Uni! Cath's anxieties are pretty extreme and Rowell writes them in a way that evokes Cath's feeling with a real rawness. Often I found myself not just sympathising with Cath but experiencing the sensation of my stomach dropping or my heart clenching. I became completely invested in her coming out of her shell and hoping that things worked out for the best for her. What intrigued me about Cath is that despite these almost crippling fears, she still had an attitude, always quick with a sassy comeback. Many of Rowell's characters were the same, so much more than they appear. Reagan was sarcastic and blunt, but with a heart of gold and always there for Cath and Levi; while Levi was funny and confident on the outside, but doubted himself and struggled with his own issues. Wren, 'the Mature One', quickly loses control in her determination to be someone different, and even Nick, who was smart and nice, had something to hide. Rowell's characters are real and flawed, and they drive the emotion of this novel.

It's obvious from the title that Fangirl is about fandom and being a part of something like this. It's definitely my favourite thing about the book. As someone who reads fanfiction every single day and has done so for something like 13 years, this aspect of Fangirl had me full of glee. I enjoyed the excerpts of Cath's fiction and the Simon Snow series. While the way Cath takes part in her fandom - through fanfiction, art and collectibles - is something I completely relate to, it is only representative of one way of experiencing fandom. It's different for everyone, and no one way is the right way. But what stands out for me is Rowell's portrayal of Cath's feelings about fandom. How Cath feels connected to the Snow series, that it's such a part of her she feels like it is hers a little. This, I think, is something anyone in any fandom can appreciate, even if they don't relate to Cath's experiences. Rowell has captured the heart of fandom. I have to say though, the fandom element of Fangirl is only a small part of the story and that surprised me. In hearing so much about Fangirl before actually reading it, that's all that's really mentioned. But there is so much more to this story. Rowell portrays relationships in all their forms, mental illness, social anxiety, a learning disability, alcoholism, and being yourself no matter what. So many serious issues and Rowell writes them with heartfelt authenticity. 

While I found the prose to be off-putting at times, the characters and their journeys, the depths of their stories, shine bright throughout Fangirl. This is a book that I felt gets me. It's a pretty awesome feeling to end a book with.



  1. Great review. I love Rainbow Rowell’s characters. They’re so realistic and relatable.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

    1. Thanks, AJ, I appreciate that. I really struggled writing this review. Sometimes the words just don't come properly. I'm looking forward to reading more of Rowell's books. I have Eleanor and Park next, have you read it? :-)