Fangirl | Rainbow Rowell
By the time I got round to reading Fangirl I had high expectations for it – it’s pretty big on the booktube community. And I have to say, it really lived up to it’s hype. I flew through the pages – Fangirl is definitely worth reading.
Out of all the books I’ve ever read, Cath, the titular fangirl is the most relatable character I’ve ever read about. She’s a bookish nerd, who loves her universe’s version of Harry Potter – Simon Snow – and lives in t-shirts and jeans and, unlike many characters, faces social anxiety. I think my relatability to Cath somewhat stems from the fact that this story starts as she’s going to university and all of my experiences just flooded in as I read. She was meeting new people, not handling inevitable change too well and unwilling or unable to socialise.
Cath’s social anxieties are portrayed well – it’s the little things like her inability to go to the dinner hall and the panic she feels when, upon moving in, she finds a boy in her room. This is contrasted by her twin sister, Wren, attending the same university, who aims to break free from the identity they held in their home town. It’s really interesting to see these two different paths taken and how the characters change from the beginning to the end of the book.
The plot itself is very much a tame university experience – not something you often get from American media. And I suppose it’s because we’re shown a different league of characters here and really it’s this and the idea of belonging to a fandom that makes the book. Cath spends her days on the internet as “Magicath”, an internet-famous fan fiction/slash fiction author and nerd.
“To really be a nerd, she’d decided, you had to prefer fictional worlds to the real one. Cath would move into the World of Mages in a heartbeat”
This is the epitome of nerddom isn’t it? The inability to exist like a normal human being in the real world because you belong in a world that only exists in fantasy. The world Cath is referring to is of course Simon Snow’s world. This was a fun addition to the plot and by creating Simon Snow from scratch it creates a barrier between the reader and Cath – we don’t have these same associations with Simon Snow as she does, we don’t know the stories and so we don’t necessarily understand her obsession.
However to add realism and a certain history to these stories and immerse the reader a little bit further, there are extracts from the Simon Snow series as well as Cath’s slash fiction extracts. Some of these extracts went on for a bit too long in my opinion (though I won’t lie, I’d definitely read Simon Snow if it existed) and a reference to Harry Potter was totally unnecessary and could have been avoided to maintain the flow of the novel. Plus the attempt to portray Simon as British fell a little flat with the references to “lab partners” and the use of the very American phrase “olly olly oxen free” taking away from the authenticity of the book a little bit.
But let’s get back to the book – there was a really interesting part where Cath hands in a creative writing piece using the Simon Snow characters and world. She’s accused of plagiarism and you see her defend herself: although the characters and world aren’t hers, the manipulation of these are and that therefore her work, in her opinion, is original. As someone who has only touched upon writing fan fiction, I had never thought of this before. I mean yes, for people like E.L James, Cassandra Clare and Sarah Rees Brennan, fan fiction has been the gateway to a real career as an author, but I wonder, is this how they feel about writing in other people’s worlds? In the novel there is very little emphasis put on the author of the Simon Snow books, Gemma T. Leslie, and it’s almost as if she exists in the background. In fact Cath at one point is competing with Gemma to finish her fanfic before the final book comes out, the implication being that otherwise the final story will belong to Gemma. How much of a certain world belongs to the fan? I liked the idea of ownership explored here, touching on themes of pastiche versus plagiarism.
Simon Snow is shown to be the anchor in Cath’s life whilst everything around her is constantly changing. Fan fiction is her haven and she retreats to it no matter what her worries consist of whether it is her father’s well-being, her sister’s wildness, her room mate Reagan who seems to hate her and of course romantic issues. I think the romantic aspect of the book is really well written though – it’s not the dominant plot point. I wouldn’t call it a love triangle in any case, more accurately Cath has two potential love interests – Nick and Levi and I genuinely didn’t know who she was going to end up with.
I’m sure you know that old saying, that boys in books are just better. It really seems like the case here as the guy that Cath ends up with is not only lovely but really understanding. Cath feels young and inexperienced (constantly comparing herself to her sister) and feels that she will be under pressure to immediately become more physical before she’s ready. And I do like seeing the uncertainty she faces when dealing with boys and what signs to pick up, trying to determine the difference between being nice and flirting.
“He smiled at her. It was one of those smiles that made her think he might be flirting. Smiling is confusing, she thought. This is why I don’t do it.”
So, if you’re a little bit nerdy or, if you’re a part of a fandom, or you’re about to embark on a new stage in your life, read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, and dare I say it? It’s fantastic.