Sunday, 13 October 2013

Review: Fangirl - Rainbow Rowell

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?

For anyone who read my review of Eleanor & Park it will come as no surprise that I am a big Rainbow Rowell fan and couldn't wait to read her latest novel. Excitingly, I read Fangirl as part of the launch of Tumblr's first official book club, Reblog Book Club, and have posted a few long winded thoughts as part of that that you can read here.

Fangirl is a novel that is so much more than its title would suggest. I'll admit that I was a little wary going in, I wouldn't really describe myself as much of a 'fangirl' about anything. I didn't even love Harry Potter all that much (don't hurt me). But, like the rest of Rowell's books, you really have to look beyond the obvious. While a large part of Cath's journey is imagined within the context of her love for the fictional Baz and Simon, her fanficiton obsession is merely the vehicle for the start of her voyage of self discovery. It's actually a lot less poncey than I made it sound, honest.

As far as the actual fanfiction aspect of the novel goes, Rowell includes snippets of Cath's Baz and Simon fanfictions, as well as excerpts from the canon novels. These snippets are, for the most part, fairly unobtrusive and can be ignored if they're not your thing (I must admit I didn't really care either way), but they are a nice touch and they do reflect Cath's struggles as the plot progresses. Cath's love of fanfiction is her escape from the awkwardness of life and throughout Rowell has paid a brilliant homage to the world of fanfiction and 'fangirling'.

As someone who didn't necessarily love college at the beginning I really connected with Cath and her uneasy, introverted nature. However, Fangirl's strength is that there is a whole host of characters that really will cover the majority of the spectrum of potential readers. Cath's university experience is juxtaposed with that of happy-go-lucky Levi; the brutally honest and confident Reagan; and Wren, her sister, who doesn't find herself at college but rather loses herself in the experience.

Again though, Rowell's book isn't merely about mapping the college experience. In Cath's proverbial jump from little to big pond she has to navigate that terrifying moment of embarking on new friendships, filtering out those who are only there for themselves along the way, as well as learning how to leave her home behind while still managing to be there for her family. While adept online Cath also struggles to find her voice in her new classes, a universal theme we all encounter when we take that little step up. College is a great setting for the book because it is the most obvious change that we (well, most of us) take in life. Change is scary and it doesn't always go well, but what Rowell teaches us is that sometimes mistakes are more important than success and eventually we will all make it out the other side.

The relationships that Cath builds in the novel, both platonic and romantic, are slow to blossom and all the more realistic for being so. None of the relationships hit you over the head and sometimes you do find yourself questioning where they are going, like real life relationships. As in Eleanor & Park I think that Rowell's strength lies in her honest portrayal of young, vulnerable relationships.

As with Rowell's previous novels her writing is really what makes Fangirl excel as a truly captivating novel. The simplicity of her language and the effortless feel of the dialogue make Fangirl a fun, fluid, and unaffected read that will keep you engaged until the end. Additionally, while the story does seem light and relatively uncomplicated, there is a distinct sharper edge that slowly creeps up on you and lends the book a lingering air that'll keep you thinking about it long after you've finished it.

Honestly, my only one niggle with the book (to be honest it's not really a niggle it made me laugh most of the time) is the dialogue between Simon and Baz. English people really don't speak like that all of the time.

Unlike a lot of other YA novels there is nothing really OTT about Rowell's second venture into the genre, the story succeeds because of its simplicity and its easy relatibility. While perhaps not as powerful as Eleanor & ParkFangirl is a wonderful coming of age novel that I think will resonate with readers of all ages.

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