Book Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Book Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

FangirlFangirl is so adorable, I didn’t know whether to read it or hug it.

This sweet, funny, charming novel tells the story of Cath Avery, a college freshman who just isn’t quite ready to leave her childhood comforts and touchstones behind. Cath is a twin, and she and sister Wren have been inseparable their entire lives… until Wren abruptly informs Cath that she wants them to live apart in college, try something new and meet new people. Cath is devastated. She has no interest in making friends and meeting new people; she and Wren have lived together for eighteen years — why stop now?

On top of that, their dad is not the most stable of guys, tending toward the manic end of the bipolar spectrum without someone around to make sure he’s eating, sleeping, and generally keeping it together. Ever since their mother left, just after 9/11 when the girls were eight years old, Cath and Wren have kept their dad on an even keel, and Cath is terrified that he’ll lose it without them around every day.

Now that she’s lost Wren as a roommate and built-in best friend, one of the unwelcome adjustments required in Cath’s new college life is her brash and irritable roommate Reagan, who seems to be constantly shadowed by her best friend Levi, a sunny older boy who is just always around… and who somehow manages to work his way into Cath’s reluctant heart.

The biggest change of all is the impact of college life on the twins’ obsession with Simon Snow. In the world of Fangirl, Simon Snow is the fictional main character of a series of books set in a magical world. Think Harry Potter, with a few twists. Simon Snow is simply the biggest thing ever, with a huge fanbase that’s getting crazier and crazier as the publication of the 8th and final book in the series approaches. Cath and Wren have always loved Simon Snow and are immersed in the world of fanfiction — or at least they were. Wren seems to have left it all behind in her quest to grow up and be a “normal” college girl, with all the drinking, partying, and boyfriends that entails, while Cath wants nothing more than to live in her Simon Snow “fic” world for as long as she can.

Cath isn’t just a regular old fan, though — she’s the incredibly popular author of Carry On, Simon, which has become the hottest fanfic in the Snow-verse. Each new installment by “Magicath” gets tens of thousands of hits, and Cath can think of nothing better than spending hours writing about Simon and the boy-on-boy romance she’s created for him with his archnemesis Baz.

Fangirl follows Cath through her first year of college, through the ups and downs of her relationship with Wren, her worries about her dad, her growing romance with Levi, and her struggles to define herself as a writer, both in the world of Simon  Snow and in the context of her advanced fiction writing course — presided over by a professor who just doesn’t “get” fanfiction and won’t allow it in her students’ writing.

This is the third book I’ve read by Rainbow Rowell, and once again I’m just incredibly impressed by her talent. In Fangirl, she’s created not one but two fictional worlds. The story of Cath and her growth and development at college is convincing and feels authentic, and at the same time, Rainbow Rowell has created a fiction-within-fiction world for the story of Simon Snow that makes it feel like a real, well-thought out book series. Actually, I suppose you could say that there are three worlds going on in Fangirl, because I don’t see how you couldn’t count Cath’s fanfiction creation as a story all its own. By the end of Fangirl, I wanted to know not only how Cath’s life would work out, but both versions of Simon Snow’s as well!

Cath’s inner life is well-described throughout. She’s scared and reclusive, yearning for connection but afraid of it too, wanting to write but not willing to leave her fanfic behind or relegate it to 2nd place. I loved Cath’s insecurities and fears, her love for her father, her anger toward Wren even while she misses her sister desperately. Perhaps most charming of all is Cath’s friendship with Levi. Levi is the boy everyone wishes they met in college. He’s sweet and smart, caring without being controlling, always there for Cath when she needs him, and funny and positive to boot. I loved that Cath and Levi could explore their feelings, not without complications or issues, but at least without the trite contrivance of an unnecessary love triangle. In fact, I thought early on that the plot was setting up a triangle, and when that didn’t turn out to be the case, I felt like raising a banner with a big “THANK YOU RAINBOW ROWELL” on it. What a relief!

Rowell’s writing is full of sparkling humor and zippy dialogue. Even when serious matters are arise, there are plenty of funny and quirky moments to lighten the mood. I love this moment, among many, which uses a pop-culture reference point as almost a throw-away quip, yet really sets a great tone (and made me snicker):

Reagan was sitting at Cath’s desk when Cath woke up.

“Are you awake?”

“Have you been watching me sleep?”

“Yes, Bella. Are you awake?”

Probably my only quibble with Fangirl has to do with names. Cath is short for Cather, and it took me the longest time to realize that yes, Cather is in fact her name and not a nickname. The explanation for Cath’s name (and Wren’s too) was just too cutesy by far for me to believe, and felt like a forced joke that didn’t work at all in the context of an otherwise totally believable (if not terribly functional) family dynamic. This is a small complaint, however, and certainly didn’t detract from my enjoyment of Fangirl for more than a moment or two.

Overall, I loved Fangirl. It doesn’t have the emotional punch of Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park, which took my breath away with the sorrow and hurt of its characters. In Fangirl, Cath goes through quite a lot, but it’s mostly a happy book about a young woman coming into her own, finding out who she is and what she wants, and learning how to be her own person. Cath’s experiences during her freshman year of college include unique elements, yet feel universal. For anyone who has suffered through meeting strange new roommates, figured out to maneuver through a dorm dining hall, or confronted a professor who just doesn’t get your work, reading Fangirl will be a nostalgic, emotional journey back to those days of excitement and confusion.

Filled with strong writing and original, well-developed characters, Fangirl is a joy to read — and it’s sure to especially delight readers who, no matter their age, still get a secret thrill from flipping back through their Harry Potter collection… again and again and again.


The details:

Title: Fangirl
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication date: 2013
Genre: Young adult/New adult
Source: Purchased

10 thoughts on “Book Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

  1. Unfortunately, I’m one of the very few who has yet to read a Rowell book but I keep hearing wonderful things about both the impact her books leave on the reader and her style as a writer. I definitely plan to make FanGirl my Rowell first. I think what I really enjoy (based on other reviews I’ve read) is the fact that though Cath experienced a deep-seeded change, she didn’t have to change the core of who she was which is SUPER important. We too often see our MC’s having to change themselves in order to experience change, but I feel that there’s a huge difference between the two. Either way, I’m always down for gorgeous prose and am excited to read this book! Fantastic review!

    • Thanks! I’d love to hear what you think once you read it. Cath is a great character, and you’re right, while she grows and matures over the course of the book, she retains her core identity throughout and stays true to herself. I’d recommend Eleanor & Park as well — it’s just beautiful.

  2. Great review, you make the book sound pretty awesome! I’ve only read Attachments from Rowell before, and wasn’t that into it, but her other books sound more interesting to me. I’m definitely picking up Fangirl at some point. I don’t have first-hand experience about new roommates or navigating dorms, but I like reading about the American school system, it’s all just very exotic to me!

    • I related a lot to Cath’s experiences, based on my own first years of college, but I could see this being very interesting to someone who hadn’t had the American college experience too! I’d love to hear what you think, if you get a chance to read it!

  3. I loved this book like crazy! I’m a Rainbow Rowell fan after reading Eleanor and Park so getting this one was an absolute must! I like the connection with fandoms and how even though i don’t consider myself to be part of one or read fanficion the book highlights just how much of a culture it’s sort of become. People live and breathe fandoms so i liked how a book was written about them from a positive prespective than a negative one too. Cath was also just the perfect character and her relationship with her family was so realistic and done so beautifully i loved it. I like how she took her time with her romantic interest too, nothing was rushed and it really seemed like how a first time relationship would work to a newbie. Great review 🙂 xx

    • Thank you! I know what you mean about being a RR fan. Eleanor & Park took me my complete surprise when I read it — I had no idea what to expect, or that I’d love it so much. I play at the edges of fandoms occasionally, not in terms of fanfic but definitely geeking out over all the nerdy stuff that I love, so I found Cath totally lovable and could relate to her so much! I loved that she was so clearly talented and that her fanfic wasn’t presented as something weird — like you said, a positive angle rather than a negative one. I appreciate your comments!

  4. Loved the review. You put everything so well. I get tongue-tied sometimes after reading something I really love, so my goodreads review was pretty short and lame this time around.
    I had a thought about the name. I thought the name Cather was jarring too, but I look at it as an example of how flaky the mom was and how out of tune she was with how her cute naming trick would affect her kids.
    I loved the “Yes, Bella” comment too. Priceless.

    • Thanks, Emily! I agree, I think the naming bit was an attempt to illustrate the mom’s approach and how she didn’t really think through the impact of her actions — but still, I had a hard time believing that any person would think this was a good idea! I’m so glad you enjoyed the book too!

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