Author: Rainbow Rowell
Genre: Contemporary YA
Publisher: MacMillan Children’s Books
DOP: 2014 (originally 2013)
After eighteen years of living together with her father and twin sister Wren, a timid Cath begins her first year at the university of Nebraska no longer co-living with her sister. Socially awkward and nervous to take these steps on her own, Cath hides in her room, turning to what she knows best and feels safest with: frequently updating her Carry On, Simon fanfiction while she waits for the eighth and final book in the Simon Snow series to be released (a homage to Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling).
After reading and watching all the praise her work has recently received online, I decided it was time to see for myself what all the hype was about and it’s fair to say that Rainbow Rowell didn’t disappoint. With this coming-of-age story, Rowell managed to capture the insecurities of freshmen seamlessly. What was most remarkable about Fangirl was how realistically Rowell managed to portray the ‘crazy’ feelings that come with a fandom, combined with simple but efficient dialogue and characters that could have stepped straight from the book to be your next best friend.
The plot wasn’t complicated and progressed steadily as the story altered between snippets from the ‘original’ Simon Snow series and Cath’s fanfictions at the start of each chapter. Although this was an unexpected extra to help us understand Cath and have some idea what Simon Snow was about, I experienced this as an element that slowed down the reading experience. Specifically, it irritated me most when this was carried through during the story itself while at that point I was more interested in the actions that occurred in between.
Cath’s character in relation to fangirl-ing
While reviewers often described Cath as too passive, too awkward or too boring, I felt the opposite. Coming from the same (obsessive) background as Cath, many people have pushed their prejudices upon me because they never understood what it’s like to be a fangirl. They never understood why I locked myself up into my room and spent hours writing fan fiction and talking to my online friends but there is a reason why Cath is the fangirl and not her sister Wren.
The definition of fangirl, according to Oxford Dictionaries, is: a female fan, especially one who is obsessive about comics, film, music or science fiction. I believe this definition is incomplete but it indicates what’s important: “especially one who is obsessive about…”.
Wren was too outgoing, too busy with experiencing life in its most obvious form, partying and drinking, to ‘obsess’ about Simon Snow the way Cath did. But does this mean that Cath doesn’t have/experience (a) life? Doesn’t have friends? Does this mean that Cath is pathetic and boring?
Reagan: You’re making me feel sorry for you again.
Cath: Don’t feel sorry for me. I don’t want you to feel sorry for me.
Reagan: I can’t help it. You’re really pathetic.
Cath: I am not.
Reagan: You are. You don’t have any friends, your sister dumped you, you’re a freaky eater… And you’ve got some weird thing about Simon Snow
Cath: I object to every single thing you just said. I have lots of friends.
Reagan: I never see them.
Cath: I just got here. Most of my friends went to other schools. Or they’re online.
Reagan: Internet friends don’t count.
Cath: Why not?
-Page 42-43, Chapter Four
Rowell shows with Fangirl that the definition of friends isn’t limited to ‘people you see every day’ but can be extended to ‘people who understand, love and share your passion online’ too. She shows there’s still a lot of prejudices towards people like Cath and perhaps, if you share these prejudices, it’s easy to wave off Cath’s excuses but having experienced the same personality traits and life as Cath I am happy to say that I met some of the best friends online and without them I wouldn’t have been who I am now today. Thanks to them, I have overcome my fears and travelled across the world to meet up with them. I came into contact with different cultures and different religions. Sometimes it was hard to accept their beliefs but in the end, it helped me to revise my own opinion and create new views because no matter our differences we all shared the same love. Without my online friends, I wouldn’t have experienced some of the best moments in my life. So to all those with prejudices: yes, I have a life and I have friends. I don’t know what you think, but I wouldn’t call myself boring because I have online friends.
Tackling the controversy
Another aspect Rowell wasn’t afraid of discussing in Fangirl was the controversy of fanfictions. With books like Fifty Shades of Grey (fandom: Twilight) and the Mortal Instruments (fandom: Harry Potter), there are people pointing fingers, claiming the authors stole from the original to create their own fame, feeding from the fandom. They consider these stories as unoriginal. I understand where they are coming from, especially when these books were fanfictions first, but Rowell explored the other side of the coin when she let Cath use the characters from the Simon Snow series for a writing assignment. This created a discussion between Cath and her teacher whether or not she committed plagiarism. There will be people reading this and agreeing with the teacher but there will also be people – like me – who understand Cath and agree with her too.
This is what Rowell touched carefully in Fangirl and it is an entire discussion on itself but the fact she did explore it, shows Rowell’s capacity of understanding her main character and her passion and not being scared to be different with her, to explore a somewhat touchy subject. Rowell invites people to think and discuss while you read Fangirl.
Since this is a coming-of-age story, I was hungry for Cath’s progression and I loved how the people closest to her saw through her, accepted her and pushed her to take those scary first steps into a world that was alien. Slowly, Cath learned to be less naïve, learned that there are other people who cared about her. She learned she was her own person and maybe the growth wasn’t spectacular in the end, but let’s be real about this. Can a person change drastically in a few months’ time? Most importantly, does she have to change? There is nothing wrong with being an introvert. Despite of what many people think, introverts can be adventurous too. You just have to give them the time. And they are less obvious about it.
With that being said, Fangirl isn’t only about someone obsessing about something. It’s also about first love. Rowell created an intimate cloud of butterfly feelings, of careful touches and meaningful smiles. She let something grow that you as reader are rooting for and by the time it happens, you find yourself smiling and nodding. If it was predictable, so what? Watching films and seeing the main characters fall in love is also predictable; it doesn’t mean that the path towards it is any less amazing, does it? It’s exactly this path that creates the emotions, the involvement and the fact you’re rooting for it or not. Who cares if it’s predictable then? I don’t think Rowell was aiming for surprises, especially since Cath overthinks everything. But just when you feel as if everything is going the way it should, someone else does create the element of surprise.
Wrapping it up
Rowell’s dialogue, sense of realism and detail, and the nerve of touching controversial topics makes that Fangirl has weaseled its way into my top ten, if not top five of all-time favourite books. I have read this book twice in less than six months and there will follow a third time, an indication I won’t let go of this story just yet. There’s just something about Fangirl that blew away my mind. I can only hope whenever you decide to pick up this book, you can experience the same trip down memory lane with a smile upon your face or have an open mind for controversy. Nothing is just black or white and Rowell pointed that out perfectly with this creation.
More books by Rainbow Rowell