Monday, September 16, 2013

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell


Rainbow Rowell
433 pgs, St. Martin’s Press 2013
Kindle Purchase
Summary from Goodreads

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?

My Summary / Thoughts

Starting college can be exciting, but it can also be scary and overwhelming.  Especially for Cather (known as Cath); describing her as shy would be an understatement.  Discovering that her twin sister Wren didn’t want to room together was a major blow – Wren is the outgoing/fun one while Cath suffers from social anxiety.  Cath also worries about how her father will cope with an empty nest – with pretty good reason.
Moving into the dorms, Cath meets her new roommate Reagan and Reagan’s boyfriend Levi.  With a smile and conversation for everyone, Levi might be the friendliest character I’ve ever read about. 
“…you’re nice to everybody.  You give away nice like it doesn’t cost you anything.”
Levi laughed.  “It doesn’t cost me anything.  It’s not like smiling at strangers exhausts my overall supply.”
“Well, it does mine.”  
“I’m not you.  Making people happy makes me feel good.  If anything, it gives me more energy for the people I care about.”
In contrast, Reagan is abrupt, almost rude.  Over the first month or two they interact very little until Reagan questions Cath about whether she’s eating – Cath’s social anxiety has prevented her from using the dining hall – she doesn't know how it works, where to sit, and is just overwhelmed by the thought of trying it.  At this point Reagan takes Cath under her wing just a bit.
“I feel sorry for you, and I’m going to be your friend.” 
“I don’t want to be your friend,” Cath said as sternly as she could. “I like that we’re not friends.” 
“Me, too,” Reagan said.  “I’m sorry you ruined it by being so pathetic.”
Having Reagan as an ally helps, but Cath still really misses the relationship with her sister.  Cath and Wren used to write fan fiction for the Simon Snow series, but Wren quit writing it a few years ago, and lately has been trying to distance herself from this aspect of Cath’s life.  And it’s a major aspect – Cath is writing her own ending to the series – essentially a final book, and she has fans.  Tens of thousands of people wait anxiously for each chapter she publishes.  Instead Wren is embracing what she believes is “typical” college life – which you can imagine isn’t very healthy and gives Cath one more thing to worry about.

And then there’s Cath’s fiction writing class – a junior level class she received permission to take as a freshman.  This class adds a professor who believes fan-fiction is plagiarism and a male classmate who sends mixed messages, confusing and disorienting Cath.
Okay so that’s a basic outline of the major characters and the challenges that Cath faces in this novel while also not giving anything away.  Here are some general thoughts.
No one writes love stories like Rainbow.  No one writes coming of age stories like Rainbow.  There’s a level of realism that as a reader I don’t even realize I’m missing until I read one of Rainbow’s books.

Quite a few young adult novels are criticized for “Insta-Love” – so much so that when I read a book where the relationship developed somewhat naturally, I’m always thrilled and make a point to note it in my review.  The development of Cath and Levi’s relationship builds so gradually and with such detail that everything else I’ve read seems shallow.  I’m at a loss for words to describe Levi.  He’s a swoon-worthy romantic lead, but not because he’s so hot (from context I’d guess he’s attractive) or brooding (he’s pretty much the opposite of brooding).  Reading about Levi is like having a light turn on that you didn’t realize was off – man that sounds cheesy – but he really does just light up the page. 
The coming-of-age aspect I mentioned a bit ago is also handled elegantly.  Cath grows throughout the novel in her writing, in how she deals with new situations and people, and also in how she views herself.  What’s truly amazing is how natural the growth feels – I felt as if I was watching someone grow up and cheering her on as she did it.  Avoiding confrontation comes naturally to Cath, but I really admired that when she was forced to express her feelings she was honest.  She never diminished her own feelings because someone else might think she was being overly dramatic.  Cath instinctively understands that even if something is a bigger deal to her than others, it doesn’t mean that she’s wrong.
Every major character - Cath, Levi, Wren, Reagan, and Cath’s dad - mature in this novel.  It happens organically as events in their lives change their perspectives or make them more confident of what they already believed.  None of them were two-dimensional – I felt like I knew and wanted to be friends with all of them. 

My Rating
Enjoyability (5 out of 5 stars)

Characters (5 out of 5 stars)
Writing (5 out of 5 stars)

I’ve read Fangirl twice in the last five days.  At this point I think I’ll have it memorized by the end of the year so I think it’s safe to say…

This book will stay with me forever.

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