Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl
Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl comes out in September this year. This is an early review on an ARC I received at BEA.

The Premise: It’s fall semester of freshman year, and Cather (aka Cath, the Less Adventurous Twin), feels lost amongst the other undergraduates. Her sister Wren has basically abandoned her (“if we do this together, people will treat us like we’re the same person”); her dad is home alone and Cath worries about that; her roommate Reagan is scary, and comes with the too-friendly Levi, who is in their room all the time. All Cath wants is to be left alone to work on her massively popular and novel length Simon and Baz fan fiction, Carry On, but college is getting in the way, and college is hard.

My Thoughts: Reading Fangirl is a comforting exercise. It’s one of those books where you open it’s pages and don’t notice the words because it takes no time to be engulfed. What’s more, nothing extraordinary may be happening on the page — moving into the dorms, briefly meeting a new roommate, saying goodbye to relatives, but there is an engrossing quality to how the characters reveal themselves through their everyday interactions. Well, sort of everyday. It’s not every day you move away from home and have your support system disappear. Titular character Cath thinks that college is hard, but I think the real issue is having to do it alone. Without her twin Wren at her side, Cath is too anxious to even go to the cafeteria by herself and lives off a stash of energy bars rather than find out where it is. She sits in the bathroom stalls quietly crying while the other girls in her hall are meeting one another. She is a quintessential introvert, her mind focused on an inner world, and who doesn’t like to get out of her comfort zone. Her sister may call her 3 year (now long distance) boyfriend an “end table”, but Cath is content with things being as they are.

You know where this is going. Cath can’t have the world stay safe and easy, and it won’t pause for her. Eventually she has to interact with others and be absorbed into new people’s orbits, and no matter what she does, other people and their lives affect hers. First (and most obvious) to impact her is her sister’s desertion, a strange flip in loyalty that leaves Cath floundering, but her sister is not the only family member that can rattle Cath. In college itself, Cath can’t avoid her roommate Reagan or the ubiquitous Levi, but then there’s also people from her classes like Nick from Creative Writing and the assortment of new acquaintances Cath picks up because she doesn’t want to be rude.

What I liked though, is that Cath got to stay herself while having to accept change. This is not a story with the moral that being introverted does you no good; it’s perfectly fine to be that way. In fact, one of my favorite parts of the story is Cath’s private world and her devotion to the Simon Snow series.  Fan fiction is so popular now, it’s practically mainstream, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a story that embraces that subculture the way that Fangirl does. I don’t think of myself as part of that subculture, but even I know about ‘slash’ and ‘ships’, and there’s a certain joy in recognizing that Simon Snow is a riff on Harry Potter. Obviously (points at book blog), I get the whole fan and being into books thing, and any time Cath waxed poetic about characters she loves, or I read excerpts of Simon Snow or Cath’s fan fiction (placed like intermissions between chapters) and recognized elements, I grinned internally. I loved how this is important to Cath’s life and reflects as such in her conversations and relationships.  Simon or simply, “stories” and “storytelling” is shared ground between Cath and others and there are a lot of scenes where it is the bridge between minds.

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For all of Cath’s fangirl-ly-ness I connected with Cath while also not really connecting with her. The introverted, wanting-to-be-alone parts I could understand, but some of her more extreme coping mechanisms (like not bothering to find the cafeteria and essentially starving) I could not. It doesn’t matter though. What matters is that even if I didn’t always understand her, I always felt for Cath. It was the same for the secondary characters who didn’t always make the best choices but managed to make me care about them. This is what I want New Adult fiction to be–not a marketing term that means sex, but an extension of the coming-of-age tale into a post-adolescent bracket. Fangirl captures the awkward unsure side of tasting independence for the first time.

The last thing I want to say about Fangirl is that it is surprising. There were some things that I was expecting, but in the end, this story made it’s characters a lot more complicated than I thought they were going to be, and thus bucked all my predictions. This includes a blossoming romance that I thought was going to be smooth and sweet but defied me by being almost painfully uncertain instead (and was the better for it). If you think you know what’s going to happen after reading the first 50 pages, you’d probably be wrong. The plot is essentially about relationship growth, and every single relationship Cath began in safe little boxes and mushroomed out to be unique and nuanced and entirely different beasts from which they began.

Overall: Really, really, good. I found very little to complain about, and when I did, it was always a personal reaction to a character’s actions and no reflection on the actual writing or story — not worth going over in this review.  And it actually seems to get better the more I reflect on it after finishing it. I hadn’t read anything by Rainbow Rowell before but it hasn’t missed my attention how many fans she has in the book blogging community. I waited in line for a copy of Fangirl because of the hype, and it was a very long wait. I can tell you now: it was utterly worth it.

P.S. How about that cover? I felt proud of myself for recognizing the artwork of gingerhaze.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Not yet as far as I could tell (I searched amongst my book blog friends), but if I missed yours, let me know.

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18 thoughts on “Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

  1. Okay, I normally wouldn’t notice a book like this, but it sounds really, really good. Especially the idea of this being what “New Adult” should really be (as opposed to the current designation). And I’d really like to see how Rowell deals with fandom… something that’s slowly cropping up in books, but is still fairly rare. I’ve heard only good things about Rowell’s writing and though I’d thought to start with the earlier books, this might not be a bad choice when it comes out…

    • This is my first experience with Rowell’s writing, so I couldn’t tell you about her other books, but I’m happy I tried this one. I hope you enjoy it if you ever give it a go. It’s very much character driven (which I like). I felt like I was so interested in what the characters were saying and doing and thinking that the writing itself just faded into the background.

  2. Ohhh, I didn’t know that the characters in this book were in college. That makes it more exciting! 😀

    P.S. I LOVE this review.

    • Yup, this is smack dab in college-time (and I am not sure I mentioned it much here but there is talk of classes, especially Cath’s creative writing one).

      Thanks! 🙂

  3. I SO want to read this book, and now I’m more excited than ever! Great review…and I am totally jealous of you for getting an ARC. Can’t wait till it’s out!

    • This is a case where listening to the buzz did me right! I hope you do give it a try. I suspect there’s going to be a lot of positive reviews which will turn people off because: HYPE, but I REALLY DID like this one.

  4. I read this back in May, right after I was approved on Netgalley, and it was way too early to write a review. But now it’s getting more timely – I shall rectify that soon.

    Though it’s my last favorite of her books, I love how different each has been and what she chose to tackle in this one. It was totally unpredictable and I came to like that. Also, so easy to fall into, and the read alouds between Cath and Levi? PRICELESS.

    • Ah cool. Looking forward to your review.

      One day I will get around to Eleanor & Park and Attachments. Interested to hear what made this your least favorite — I know when I was reading I was judging certain people so hard (heh!), but after I finished I came to like how the characters got to make mistakes and had to figure things out after making their mistakes. It kind of deepened the book for me.
      Yes, the read-alouds. I looked forward to those!

  5. Hm. I was not enamored of ATTACHMENTS. Started and bailed on E&P (though I may return someday). But you make me want to give her another shot with this one. So well done you.

    Love the photo, btw. I get a little thrill out of peeking into other people’s copies of books.

    • Ah well, I try my best. 😛 But that gene, sometimes you don’t have it for a certain writer.
      Glad you liked the photo, I thought I’d make the review more interesting with some visual effects (plus I felt a bit lazy about typing out a quote). I snuck in another photo in the link above it too. 😉

  6. Okay, I just realized that I haven’t commented on your review! I think I first read this review on my phone so I sent a tweet instead of commenting. Anyway, glad you enjoyed reading this one because I’m definitely planning to read it. I had so much fun reading Attachments. I have Eleanor & Park on my bookshelf now, I hope I can read it soon. What’s great about Rainbow Rowell’s books is they’re so very different from each other.

    • You are so sweet to even worry about whether or not you commented! 😛

      I hadn’t realized her books were so different. I tried Attachments but I don’t think I was in the right mood or I was distracted and not really getting into it. I ended up returning it to the library. I think I’m going to go for E&P and then maybe come back to Attachments.

      ETA: I’m glad you’re planning to read Fangirl. It’s my current favorite! Heh.

      • I am trying to be better about commenting! I feel like I don’t comment as often as I used to.

        Oh you’ve tried Attachments before? Sorry to hear that you weren’t in the mood for it when you first gave it a try. But it’s good that you’re still interested in reading it. It’s kind of a slow, quiet romance but I enjoyed it. Probably because I could relate to the office setting and the characters are the same age as I am.

        • I think that maybe someone was having health problems in the story (do I remember that right?) and it was too close to home because I was worried about someone I know. It made me feel like I wasn’t escaping. I’m probably in a better head-space now.

  7. Agreed — I LOVED that this is exactly what New Adult should be. We should be talking about this age range, not sexing everything up.
    I LOVED how Rainbow can say so much without directly saying it, if that makes sense. She’s got such a brilliant way of writing and it just gives me the warm fuzzies!
    I actually had a couple issues, mainly with Cath, because I just became bothered with HOW introverted and closed off to the world she was. I think she just didn’t make as much progress as I was anticipating so I was a bit let down, although I completely understand it. Just another time where my expectations got way too far ahead of me! 🙂 Still really enjoyed it though. Wonderful review! Loved reading your thoughts on this!

    • Yes. Not that sex is bad, just that.. that’s not what I want the genre to be about. And more agreeing with you: the writing is definitely a great example of letting the reader figure it out on their own. 🙂
      Cath is one of the more “scared of the world” characters I’ve ever encountered! I felt a bit impatient with her at first too, but she grew on me and told myself that I’m supposed to be introduced to people who aren’t like me in books. I definitely see where you’re coming from though. I’m most relieved that she found someone to eat with at the cafeteria so she wasn’t eating her energy bars by herself like a sad puppy. If she had kept doing that I would have had a harder time.

  8. Hello! I stumbled on your review while checking on the release date for Fangirl. I’m even more excited now and I want to add whatever encouragement I can to read Eleanor & Park and Attachments soon! I read both books in two consecutive days. Both kept me awake until 4 am; one compelled me to sit up straight and weep with abandon while the other caused me to burst into giggles every ten minutes or so. Wonderful, very different books. Rowell is an absolutely lovely writer. I instantly became a loyal reader.

    • Cool, I love when people who are excited about books stumble on my blog! And you are mighty persuasive too. Books that make you stay up late and weep or laugh are the best. Alright, alright, I am going to go with the peer pressure of pretty much everyone :). I will read those books.

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