2.5 stars out of 5.
Fangirl is the 2013 young adult novel written by American author Rainbow Rowell. It follows the freshman year of college for twin sisters Cath and Wren, mainly focusing on Cath’s point of view. Cath is a socially awkward ‘fangirl’ and for many years she has been a devoted writer of Simon Snow fanfiction.
When I first got my hands on this book, I was nervous to pick it up immediately because of how much hype was surrounding it. Literally everywhere I looked that was book related had something fantastic to say about it. I thought that I would be able to relate because I was like Cath – a nerd, a writer of fanfiction, awkward and introverted… But I couldn’t fall in love with this story like I was hoping I would.
This book, to me, didn’t reach the standards that I was hoping for it. Maybe that’s my fault, but when you have a ton of people saying that it’s a brilliant book, you start getting the impression that there is something there to fall in love with.
The writing was nothing special. I appreciate the effort that it takes to write a book – I always try to keep that in mind – and there was nothing inherently wrong with it. It just didn’t wow me. Not to mention, I got through it twice as fast when I skipped the Simon Snow ‘extracts’. They were supposed to be a big part of the story but it never felt that way. Simon Snow was just the thing Cath was obsessed with; the ‘extracts’ littered throughout the book had no rhyme or reason, there was no point. They didn’t contribute to the story in any way. Adding to that, Simon Snow is meant to be this story’s version of Harry Potter. It isn’t even a subtle parody – there are many books, it set in Britain in a magical school where kids are taught to be wizards- I mean, magicians -, there is a movie franchise, there’s merchandise, it’s taken the world by storm. It is the magical epitome of this story – Simon Snow is Harry Potter, Baz is Draco Malfoy. WHEN YOU HAVE SO HEAVILY PARODIED A WORK OF FICTION TO THE EXTENT THIS NOVEL HAS GONE TO, YOU DO NOT REFERENCE THE PARODIED WORK. If you are going to fictionalise something and pretend the fictionalised version is the best thing in the world, that it is a phenomenon that has captured people’s hearts and minds just as Harry Potter did, you cannot then say that the parody exists in the same universe at the same time. It just doesn’t work.
Besides! This story wasn’t about fandom as I thought it would be. There is a moment where Cath is mentally criticising Nick about his character being a Mary-Sue when she herself is pretty much that typical character type. Instead of her interacting with forums or cosplaying, instead of her spending hours on Tumblr or other forums geeking out over something, Cath is the ultimate fanfiction writer. It’s about her commitment to her fans and her version of a story. This book isn’t about the feeling of community you can get when you join a fandom – it is about one girl growing up and trying to balance her love of fantasy with her general need to get her shit together in reality.
I’m neutral when it comes to the relationships. It genuinely feels as though the conflict with Nick was brought in solely because Rainbow had written him in and suddenly decided that she needed a quick way to get him out of the picture. Levi was just… He just was. I don’t really know what to say about him. There were times when I felt as though he was a little manipulative but for the majority of the book, I liked him. I never felt overly attached to him – I didn’t care. Just like with Reagan. I found her bloody annoying to begin with – she was rude and obnoxious and if anyone spoke to me the way Reagan spoke to Cath I would probably end up yelling at them. Wren was a typical teenager. Again, there was nothing special about her. She was there when drama needed to happen and she never really progressed the plot whenever she was in a scene.
Their father was just bizarre. I didn’t quite know how to react to him. I didn’t know if he was sick or not, I couldn’t make a decision without feeling like an arsehole. He was just really odd. It’s described how often the twins had gone to live with another relative whenever his mental health got too bad and all I could think of was how were they still in his custody if he was able to get into such a state on a regular basis.
However, it was nice to come across a story where it wasn’t the father who had abandoned his family. More often than not, when a child in a story is dealing with abandonment issues, it stems from the father dying or leaving. This is the first story I’ve picked up where the mother is the one who has openly abandoned her children and not looked back. And as sad as it was to read that kind of stuff, I have to give props to Rainbow for showing the other side of the coin.
All in all, I feel that this is more of a coming-of-age story that was marketed as something it is not. I was disappointed. I’ll still give Carry On a go – I bought that before I even realised that it had anything to do with Fangirl because I liked the premise blind – and even Eleanor and Park. But Fangirl was such a letdown. If you want to read it, go ahead but keep in mind that this is not a story about fandom – this is the story of one girl who thinks she’s bigger than she is.