In a recent blogpost, I proposed – and later chose – Fangirl as my next ‘out of my comfort zone’ read. I’ve had some bad past experiences with contemporary YA novels, but had this hunch that Rainbow Rowell’s novel about “fan fiction, family and first love” (as the cover calls it) might be more up my alley than most books within the genre. And I was right! I expected I might like it, but had not expected it to end up on the five star-shelve at all. Definitely having a book hangover right now!
Cath is my spirit animal. Despite the fact that I don’t write fan fiction nor do I have a twin sister, I felt so connected to her socially anxious personality and saw a lot of myself in her. She’s very relatable. Well, at least if you’re an awkward nerd. Which I am. Totally am. Furthermore, Cath is a witty and hilarious narrator (she got some chuckles out of me, which is quite a feat). The way her mind works is very typical to writers – always thinking about wording and such – which only adds to Fangirl’s awesome ‘relatableness’ since I do fancy to call myself a writer on occasion.
So yeah, I loved Cath. Now let me count the ways I hated her twin sister, Wren. Cath’s relationship with Wren is put to the test when they both go to the same college but stay at different dorms and have an altogether different college experience: while Cath struggles to even just go down to the mess hall for dinner – surviving off protein bars – due to her anxiety, Wren is living it up and getting drunk with her roommate. She just completely falls out of her sister’s life when she needs her most and I hated her for it for the better part of the 445 pages. Sometimes the divide between these two sisters – once so close – is truly heartbreaking.
I hadn’t expected to feel such a profound emotional connection to a book like this, but I obviously did. I have a younger sister myself and in a lot of ways, we’re opposites like Cath and Wren are. We’ve even had some long-lasting spells of not talking, as Cath and Wren do in the book. Even though we’re really close now (built-in BFF-close), I could definitely still relate to Cath’s struggle to understand her sister and come to terms with her sister’s differences – at that age. I feel sister relationships can add a very interesting dimension to a novel. Rainbow Rowell definitely delivered on this part. So generally, the whole family aspect of Fangirl just (just) really spoke to me. I loved Art as their Dad and simply liked their whole family dynamic a whole lot.
Moving on to … Reagan! Great character. Reagan is Cath’s college roommate and she’s honest, hilarious and outspoken to a fault. She also unwittingly introduces ‘The Main Love Interest’ in Cath’s life: Levi. I don’t quite know how to feel about Levi … Their developing romance definitely gave me some sporadic butterflies, but I’m quite convinced they’re due to Rainbow Rowell’s excellent writing when it comes to cutesy lovey-dovey scenes and not so much to the character itself. Or does that not make any sense?
I kinda found Levi to be the only highly unrealistic character in Fangirl. Getting into college in the US is super difficult and I don’t know if I fully believed the whole ‘I’m not a book person’-explanation to go with it (I don’t wanna spoil too much, you’ll get it if you’ve read it I guess). Also, he’s very, very, very patient for someone his age when it comes to … relationships. Does it say something about romantic culture and bladieblabla when I, as a woman, find this unusual? Probably, maybe, maybe not – but let’s not get into that.
And why Rainbow Rowell, whyyyy, did he have to be a smoker? It doesn’t add anything at all to this particular character, nor is it influential as far as the story’s concerned, so I truly do not see why putting a cigarette in his mouth was necessary – it’s 2014 for Pete’s sake. This rather (almost, not quite) ruined Levi for me, as it did for so many other smoking characters in other books … I’ve put this out there quite a few times already – sorry to be a drag (get it: drag), but I really feel very strongly about smoking in YA novels: do NOT make the hero of your story a smoker. Your audience is at least in some part young and easily influenced: use your Super Author Powers for GOOD and take a stand against smoking. R.R. should’ve made Nick a smoker. That would’ve fit a whole lot better.
Of course, you can’t review Fangirl without reviewing the fan fiction. I loved this part of the novel! I WANT REAL SIMON SNOW BOOKS! I guess the addition of the excerpts of Cath’s ‘Carry on, Simon’-fan fiction as well as ‘actual’ excerpts from the ‘actual’ Simon Snow series, made this contemporary book a whole lot more accessible for little old fantasy-crazed me. It wasn’t all that out of my comfort zone after all, because I got a little fantasy here and there to satiate my appetite for mages and vampires and spells. Simon Snow is fairly obviously based on Harry Potter, however, Rainbow Rowel managed to create an entire, unique magical world just for the purpose of adding a few in-between chapters of fan fiction to illustrate her main character’s passion. Unusual, but so, so great! This really made the book jump out of the 4 star-pool and into the five star-jacuzzi for me. I’m not kidding: R.R. should really write these books! I’d eat them up.
Okay, time to wrap this review up: Fangirl is a quirky, cute, unique book about sisters, writing and being the most socially awkward person in the room at any given time. It’s about the ‘college experience’ (such a magical thing in the US opposed to here in Europe!) and falling in love, slowly, very slowly. It’s about stepping out of your comfort zone, and that’s exactly what I did when I chose to read Fangirl! I unintentionally stayed up way too late several days in a row, reading chapter after chapter. However, I must say the ending wasn’t all that great. Bit of a letdown. I don’t feel everything’s as wrapped up as it should be … When I only had about 50 pages left, I started panicking: so much still needed to be fixed, concluded! But whatever, I’ll look back very fondly on reading Fangirl and it’ll be remembered as one of my favorite reads in 2014.