Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Fangirl - Rainbow Rowell Review


Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Pages: 459
Rating: 5 stars (+)
Blurb: 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?


I'm just going to lead with a quote from the New York Times Journal of Books review, because it so perfectly encapsulates my feelings about it:

Fangirl is a deliciously warm-hearted nerd power ballad destined for greatness”

Can I just say I love the term “nerd power ballad”? Anyway. Fangirl is the second book I bought with the Eason book voucher I got for my birthday (thanks, Cian). I wasn't sure about it at first because I don't think I've ever read a book about someone's first year in college before, especially since it's contemporary. I wouldn't even have considered that YA before now. I'm glad to say Fangirl changed my opinion on that.

Whew. How do I start to describe Fangirl? I guess I'll start by praising the title: YA books with a catchy one-word title are all over the place, but too many of them don't have anything to do with the content. This one is great: one simply colloquial word in the teenage vernacular that runs on the story's hook.

I can express its popularity this way: people in school have read it. Tons of people in my school. I mention the title and they say, “Oh, I know that one. It's really good.” This is often coming from people who generally don't read. I guess I'm mostly surprised by that because Fangirl hasn't (yet) become a phenomenon like Harry Potter or The Hunger Games – it's a quieter book, like everyone's secret.

The characterization was fabulous. I don't think I can adequately express just how brilliant Levi – my favourite – was, but I'll try. Levi isn't someone I immediately took a liking to. He spends a lot of the first part of the book sitting on the landing waiting for Reagan, Cath's roommate, to let him in, and Cath sees him as almost belonging to Reagan. Then he steals her protein bars (more on that later) and she starts talking to him.

Levi is ... unlike anyone I've ever read about. He's so genuine, so kind and caring, but not in a pushover Peeta-type way. He's funny and normal, studying Agriculture. And he has vulnerabilities – like the fact that he's unable to learn by reading (in direct contrast to Cath's love for reading and writing), and that Reagan cheated on him. Have some quotes:

It's okay if you're crazy," he said softly.
"You don't even know-"
"I don't have to know," he said. "I'm rooting for you.”

What's the plan?" she asked.
He grinned. "My plan is to do things that make you want to hang out with me again tomorrow. What's your plan?"
"I'm going to try not to make an ass of myself."
He grinned. "So we're all set.”

You give away nice like it doesn't cost you anything.” (Cath to Levi – he's certainly not the moody type. Honestly, Levi is just the most comforting person character ever. I want him in my life.)

I loved her Dad as well, who's portrayed as a brilliant creative (who's not a writer or artist, surprisingly, but rather an advertising person of some sort – words fail me), but so very absentminded. It's a wonder he's managed to mind the twins on his own all these years, and he and Cath have a very close relationship. He's a very endearing character, and I admire Rowell for making the father involved in a YA story.

Cath's chosen fandom is Simon Snow, the wildly popular series about a boy who goes to wizarding school. It's an obvious rip-off of Harry Potter, and I think that's an interesting effect – Rowell is using the exact hype and Pottermania (oh god, did I just say that?) there was all over the world. It settles Cath into the real world and lets us identify with her a bit.

Not a whole lot, though, which is where I have to talk about something that disconcerted me. Cath seems entirely unhealthy. We already know she's painfully shy, but when she goes to college she stays in her room all the time on the internet, terrified of her roommate. She hides boxes upon boxes of protein bars under her bed so that she doesn't have to eat in front of people in the food hall. She turns down invitations to every social event. And unless I missed something, it's doesn't say that she suffers from something like anxiety, and the only mention of attending a therapist is from ten years before, after her mom left. So that was worrying. You couldn't chalk her obsession down to fangirling alone. I'm a fangirl (look at this blog), and while I'm not a particularly intense one, I don't think anyone is as extreme as she is without underlying issues. She contemplates dropping out of college and failing a big assignment just so she can finish her fanfiction. (Finishing her fanfiction is framed as a big coming-of-age moment).

One of the parts that got me really emotional about Fangirl is the description of what it feels like to have a parent leave. Obviously it's different for everyone, and there are varying degrees of, well, badness – but as the story arc tilts towards Cath's mother who left when she was in third grade, on the day of 9/11, we feel her pain and her resentment incredibly strongly. Rainbow Rowell has an amazing ability for tugging on readers' heartstrings without ever descending into melodrama.
This part is about Cath and her twin sister Wren:

They were a package deal, period. Since always.

They'd even gone to therapy together after their mom left. Which seemed weird, now that Cath thought about it. Especially considering how differently they'd reacted – Wren acting out, Cath acting in. (Violently, desperately in. Journey to the Centre of the Earth in.)

Their third-grade teacher - they were always in the same class, all through elementary school – thought they must be upset about the terrorists . . . .


Her mom left for good a week later, hugging both of the girls on the front porch, kissing their cheeks again and again, and promising that she'd see them both soon, that she just needed some time to feel better, to remember who she really was. Which didn't make any sense to Cath and Wren. You're our mom.

Cath couldn't remember everything that happened next.

She remembered crying a lot at school. Hiding with Wren in the bathroom during recess. Holding hands on the bus. Wren scratching a boy who said they were gay in the eye.

Wren didn't cry. She stole things and hid them under her pillow. When their dad changed their sheets for the first time – not until after Valentine's Day – he found Simon Snow pencils and Lip Smackers and a Britney Spears CD.”

Terribly long quote, I know, but it was so hard to choose. The writing here is just so emotive. And the matter-of-fact tone makes it worse.

Once I got into Fangirl I read it everywhere, even under the desk in school. It was so engrossing, and I felt so emotionally attached to – well, not specifically the characters, more the relationships between them – that I couldn't let it go. I sat in bed one night reading the last two hundred or so pages while listening to music, and for some reason I kept laughing and crying out loud. It could have been just me, but that book – to use fan language (fanguage? And come on, don't I use it already?) really really really gave me feels.  

And now I'm dying to read Eleanor & Park


  1. Yesss, this review definitely takes me back to my experience with Fangirl. I just loved it like mad! Still haven't read anything else by Rainbow, but I'm sure if I do they will also join my favourites. And now I really want to reread Fangirl...

    1. I'm glad ;)

      I keep meaning to read Eleanor & Park because it looks similar! If you do read it make sure to post a review and I'll take that into account. So many book choices, so little time, as I'm sure you know judging by your recent monthly recaps.

  2. The only reason I got my hands on a copy of Fangirl was because Rowell came to Toronto ... and then I ended up really enjoying it. I loved Levi and would like someone like him in my life too. He's just so different from any character I've ever encountered!

    1. Oh, that's an interesting way. I just saw people buzzing about it and picked it up. Authors so rarely come to Ireland, it's tragic.

      And yep, he is. He seems very real.


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