Book Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (Or the One With Fanfiction and Social Anxiety)

January 5, 2015 miscellaneous 6

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell cover

Cath and Wren are identical twins and until recently they did absolutely everything together. Now they’re off to university and Wren’s decided she doesn’t want to be one half of a pair anymore – she wants to dance, meet boys, go to parties and let loose. It’s not so easy for Cath. She would rather bury herself in the fanfiction she writes where there’s romance far more intense than anything she’s experienced in real life.

Now Cath has to decide whether she’s ready to open her heart to new people and new experiences, and she’s realizing that there’s more to learn about love than she’s ever thought possible…

I seem to have hit a lucky streak when it comes to books because THIS BOOK WAS SO AWESOME OMG. You know when you hesitate to write a review because you’re not sure how to do the book justice? This is one of those times. Click the clickity link to let me tell you about the awesomeness of this book. No major spoilers of any kind. I hope you appreciate it because it’s REALLY HARD not to talk about the book in more detail. Also, can we take a moment to appreciate that “Rainbow” seems to be the actual name of this author, according to my two minute Google research? Okay, good, you may read on now.

I took tons of notes while I was reading, but what it comes down to is this: I don’t think I’ve ever identified with a character as much as I did with Cath. Her problems were, for better or for worse, completely relatable to me. Her social anxiety, fear of intimacy and tendency to neglect the “real” world in favor of fictional worlds or the online community rang all too true with me. She even struggles with writing original fiction over fanfiction. She was goddamn fired from a job because she didn’t smile enough. (Okay, so I wasn’t even close to being fired but I was told to smile more several times. What? YOU try working at a fast food restaurant.)

I was pleasantly surprised by how unconventional and unique Fangirl felt. Part of the reason it took me so long to read this book was that I was worried it might read like an anti-fandom, children-used-to-play-outside manifesto. This was not the case. Cath’s struggle to balance her fanfiction and everything else were a pivotal part of the book, but I never felt like the author was looking down on her choices. It was just about that: balance, not complete abnegation (yes, Divergent taught me a new word – it’s still not a great book).

Great, Vlora, you might think. You were able to self-indulgently work through all your own issues because you connected to the main character, but is the book ACTUALLY good. To which I can only reply: yes, yes it is. I can’t tell whether the craziness of fandom and fanfiction is entirely accessible to people who have never experienced it for themselves, but I think Rainbow Rowell did a good job of explaining it through means of the other characters’ questioning of Cath’s activities. If you’ve ever read or written fanfiction, there’s a lot of meta-goodness in this book, but it’s certainly not a requirement to enjoy it. Rainbow Rowell’s characters are some of the best developed, likeable, understandable characters I’ve ever come across in a book. You can’t help but care about them in some way or another. I often feel indifferent about – or annoyed by – the romance, but while reading Fangirl, I was rooting for (if you’ve read the book: see what I did there?) the couple all the way.

Obviously no book is perfect, so this one has it’s very own issues. The thing that most bothered me was the pacing. It wasn’t that I wanted the book to be shorter – on the contrary; I could have gladly lived in Cath’s world for a little while longer – it just felt like the structure was a bit off. At the beginning I was wondering what direction it would take, and then at the end it felt rushed. The last two or so chapters would have benefitted from some embellishment. And then there’s the thing that I just cannot for the life of me understand: the Simon Snow books were very clearly and very intentionally presented as stand-ins for Harry Potter, so WHY does the author reference Harry Potter at one point during the book? It just doesn’t make sense at all within the world of the book. The only reason I could imagine is that it was supposed to be a joke? A kind of nod to Harry Potter since so much of Fangirl is written around it? Or, and this seems a little far-fetched, did she have to state that Simon Snow isn’t Harry Potter to save herself from legal prosecution or something? If you know the answer let me know because this genuinely doesn’t make sense to me.

There were a few expressions that genuinely confused me, and I don’t think it was because of the language barrier. I had read that the author tends to use weird expressions or metaphors from time to time, but I completely forgot until I stumbled across it myself. It wasn’t to the point where it really bothered me, but it threw me out once or twice. Most characters annoyed me at one point or another, but I could still usually see where they were coming from. Rainbow Rowell has that rare talent that can get you to hate a character in one moment and love them the next because the people inhabiting her world are so real you might as well meet them in everyday life. Oh, and can I mention the humor! It’s not like I convulsed with laughter every other page, but I did genuinely laugh out loud a couple of times. I felt like Cath got funnier later on and there’s this one scene when she meets a fan in the library – oh right, no spoilers. Well, go on then. Read the book. What are you waiting for? Did I mention it’s good yet?

Alright, if you’re still not convinced I will give you a non-spoilery excerpt just because it is one of the best justifications of procrastination I’ve read to date:

“Have you ever heard sculptors say that they don’t actually sculpt an object; they sculpt away everything that isn’t the object?”

“No.” He sat down.

“Well, I’m writing everything that isn’t my final project, so that when I actually sit down to write it, that’s all that will be left in my mind.”

See? So relatable. Also, if you buy the edition that says bonus content inside, you’ll get some cute art. Don’t read the cartoon on the inside of the jacket at the end of the book if you want to remain spoiler-free though. I feel like character art should be a thing. I now always require art with my books.

Okay, so I could go on and on (I’m pretty sure I’ve said this at the end of my last review as well… maybe I have a problem), but it would all include spoilers, so I’m going to leave you with another insistent READ THE BOOK ALREADY.

Do I even need to say it? Five out of five. It feels a bit unfair since I gave The Darkest Minds five and a half, but I reckon I probably shouldn’t keep ignoring my own rating system.


6 Responses to “Book Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (Or the One With Fanfiction and Social Anxiety)”

  1. Inge @ Bookshelf Reflections

    Great review, Vlora! I read this over the summer and I really enjoyed it, especially because I could relate to Cath so much. I don’t really read fanfiction but I absolutely get why others do – you get to spend even more time in the worlds that you love. And I really liked that about this book. My main issue was also the Harry Potter thing – it was clearly a replacement for Harry Potter, so why even mention it? Unfortunately, I can’t give you the answer to that either.
    Inge @ Bookshelf Reflections recently posted…Review: Requiem by Lauren OliverMy Profile

  2. Shannon @ It Starts At Midnight

    Ohhh how I need to read this book! It came in the mail yesterday, so hopefully very soon. It DOES sound so relatable! (Also- I don’t blame you for not wanting to smile at the fast food place. Come on, who would?) I was wary at first, mainly because of the fan fiction stuff, I wasn’t sure if it would be too “much” for me, but I really don’t think it will be, Cath sounds so insanely relatable! I am so, so glad you enjoyed it, and now I cannot wait to read it!
    Shannon @ It Starts At Midnight recently posted…You Are New? I Shall Read Your Debut!My Profile

  3. verena

    currently there is a lot talking about that Rainbow Rowell!

    Shailene is reading her, too! John Green recommends books by her…

    Must be one of the great new modern authors! Still have to read something by her!!

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