Total Star Rating: 3.5 Stars
Real life was something happening in her peripheral vision.”– Rainbow Rowell, “Fangirl”
It may sound ironic, but this has to be one of the most popular books that I’ve come across that doesn’t have an actual fandom for it. Those who’ve read it all have said it’s a great story to enjoy and that they really enjoyed it, so why isn’t it referred to by many more avid book readers? Why don’t I see it showcased more on the many #Bookstagram accounts I follow? There’s also the later released book Carry On by this author too but everyone who’s read both said that this book comes first, so here we are!
I will say that besides other’s recommendations with that reading order, I had my own curiosity with this title for personal reasons. For those not aware, I’ve been on-and-off working on a coming-of-age college story of my own over the last two years, and this title popped out at me to what to check out to gather intel, see how the story works, what worked well and what didn’t, what I would change, help make some of my own college memories resurface, etc. For anyone interested, go check out my story’s progress on its page titled “When In Doubt (WIP Fiction Series)” on the main menu bar. It’s had its ups and downs and with a lot going on in my personal life at the time I’m typing this review, I haven’t worked on it as much as I’d liked to, but enough self-promotion, back to this review!…
You’re never going to find a guy who’s exactly like you—first of all, because that guy never leaves his dorm room.”– Rainbow Rowell, “Fangirl”
I liked but didn’t love this book, even as I found it to be one of the more unique stories I’ve read in the YA reading level. the main character, Cath, who is a lot like most of us who have our heads in a book: she’s awkward, weird, complex, anti-social, and full of her own inner stories based off her favorite franchise, which is called Simon Snow and is basically a Harry Potter knockoff. Being a total Potterhead myself, even if the books no longer have an author (Shame!), I could totally relate because the Harry Potter franchise is what started it all for me! They’re the books that really got me truly passionate about books, about film, about storytelling in general, and is the catalyst that truly made me think “I want to do that” for the first time in my younger years.
As for why I didn’t love this book, it just felt like there could’ve been more that happened in terms of the plot? I think it just had too many slower moments that made it somewhat harder to keep my attention from wandering, and even the conclusion I felt like could’ve been bigger. It just felt like not as much as I’d thought would happen by the end had actually done so. I did love the growth that the main character went through as the story in all aspects: her family, finding her first love, and of course friendship, and felt like she was definitely a different person once we got from point A to point B, but I was hoping maybe there would be a bigger, and grander ending of some sort? Maybe the story works the way it is, but part of me felt like there was some buildup with Cath’s writing that got a conclusion that just fell a little flat for me.
Now despite all that, there is plenty to praise the author as well! Rainbow Rowell’s characters and her work on them are a major highlight; I think just about everyone can read this story and have most if not all the characters remind them of someone they know in real life because of how real they feel. She even has the ability to make them all so complex, even as they stand on opposite ends of the social spectrum. What I mean by that actually is by comparing Cath to her twin sister, Wren, and how they interact as the story moves forward. Cath is a totally anti-social introvert who stays in her dorm to write fanfiction, but Wren has totally embraced the college party scene and wants to drift apart from her sister, but they meet up several times and while obviously Cath has a lot of inner depth to her, you even see it in her sister in little moments and as their family is put through the emotional wringer. It was the little moments like these that made me believe that the author truly knew her characters in and out.
I was also a fan of the romance—of course—that develops in Fangirl as well! What I liked about it the most was how realistic it felt. Sometimes, the romance genre can go so over the top and make it feel like we have to bend hand-over-knee or whatever that phrase is for our significant others, and those grand gestures are the one answer it takes to show them our true feelings. Well, life ain’t like that nor is it some spanish telenovela, and what we need to remember is that even the simplest of things can get the message across just as effectively. The little things do matter!
She smiled, and her eyes started to drift downward.
Back up to his eyes.
‘You know that I’m falling in love with you, right?'”– Rainbow Rowell, “Fangirl”
Besides the characters, it’s the nostalgia that was the most powerful thing for me to come out of reading this book. It was the nostalgia of my own freshman year of college—perhaps the greatest year of my life—and of course all the fandoms that I’ve been a part of over the years. Whether we admit it or not, we’ve all been obsessed at one point or another with something much like Cath is with Simon Snow. We’ve read the books, we bought the (sometimes) overpriced merch, the action figures, we went to the midnight premieres in costume, we had those heated debates with friends, we shipped those couples that never become canon, we joined the fanclubs, etc. Some of them we can openly admit to and maybe can even still say we belong to it, but I can agree that there are probably some that we blush and stay mum about and keep it a total guilty pleasure. I’ve been like that, but as a way to end this section of this review, I’ll put myself out there and list off all the fandoms that I can remember that I’ve been a part of:
Disney’s Little Mermaid, Spongebob Squarepants, Winnie the Pooh, Power Rangers, Pokémon, Digimon, Sailor Moon, Bratz Dolls, Kids Next Door, WWE, Yu-Gi-Oh, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Throne of Glass (or any book by Sarah J. Maas honestly), From Blood and Ash series, Dexter’s Laboratory, Scooby Doo, Pirates of the Caribbean, Lord of the Rings, Batman and Batman Beyond, Dragon Ball Z, Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Legend of Korra, Superman, Ariana Grande, Britney Spears, The Pussycat Dolls, Star Wars films, Teen Titans, Fairly Odd Parents, Danny Phantom, Choices, Schitt’s Creek, Samurai Jack, Finding Nemo, Stranger Things, MCU, Tomb Raider, Greek Mythology, The Powerpuff Girls, Shonen Jump manga, Grey’s Anatomy, One Tree Hill, An Ember in the Ashes series, The Vampire Diaries, MTV’s The Hills, The Folk of the Air series, Rocket Power, Rihanna, Ed Edd ‘n’ Eddy, Courage the Cowardly Dog, Looney Tunes, N*Sync, The Backstreet Boys, Kim Possible, That 70’s Show, Hannah Montana, Mean Girls, That’s So Raven, Phil of the Future, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, Spy High, The Falling Kingdoms series, The Cheetah Girls, The Sims, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, The Nanny, Full House, Friends, New Girl, The Emperor’s New Groove, The Proud Family, Jesse McCartney, Lizzie Mcguire, Goosebumps, Totally Spies, Family Guy, The Land Before Time, Hocus Pocus, Boy Meets World, Duck Tales, Monster’s Inc, The Rugrats, Zoey 101, Drake and Josh, Zoobooks, The Black Cauldron, Roller Coaster Tycoon, The Lion King, The Fever Series, Queer Eye, Riverdale, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Pretty Little Liars, Once Upon a Time, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Pizza, American Horror Story, 13 Reasons Why, The Hunger Games, Divergent, Twilight, and I’m sure plenty more that I can’t even remember! Here’s a crazy thought to leave you with: think of how the very person you are, your beliefs and personality and maybe even your soul is influenced by all the things like these that you grew up with, with the messages they sent you, the lessons you learned, and all that makes up who you are!
What It’s About:
The official blurb:
A coming-of-age tale of fan fiction, family and first love.
Cath is a Simon Snow fan.
Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan..
But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.
Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.
Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words… And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.
For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?
And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?
What I Liked:
- The College Nostalgia! Oh man, did this book bring me back to my own college days! I actually started my freshman year the fall of 2012, which is actually the school year after the timeline that this book takes place in, so I found a lot of the pop culture references, clothing choices, etc. to be really relatable. Even the time at the bowling alley reminded me of the many Thursday nights I went to the UW-Stout Alehouse for 50 cent bowling nights. My freshman year of college is what I consider the best year of my life so far, so the fact that this book made me think back to some really fond memories gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling right in the chest.
- The Themes! Family, isolation, love & sex, writing, drugs & alcohol, and of course coming of age are the themes I got while reading, and I thought they all commingled rather nicely into a realistic and touching story. Cath is so dedicated to her family even when she feels like everything is moving on without her which leads into the isolation. She’s not a partier like her twin sister and is totally content to stay in every night and just write more fanfiction because of social anxiety and the uncertainty of it all, I get it. Cath noticing boys in a new way, plus her growing relationship with Levi focuses on the love and sex aspects, add in a side note with Reagan as being involved with Levi in that regards too, but not in the way you might expect right off the bat. Creative Writing is a huge part of Cath’s life, plus the story follows her struggles with her writing course with Professor Piper and Nick. College and drinking go hand in hand—my two underage tickets can attest to that—and Wren really seems to embrace the party culture on campus with her blonde roommate, Courtney. Cath worries about her, but Wren continues to blow her off and downplay how far she goes whenever she goes out on the weekends.
- The Romance Between Levi and Cath! The budding relationship between these two was a little insta-love on Levi’s part, which actually wasn’t too bad since he wasn’t the protagonist, but it was actually kind of sweet how it was so obvious he was totally smitten for Cath since day one. Reagan, Cath’s roommate, plays an interesting role as the thing that initially keeps them apart in the beginning. What I really loved about their relationship and all that happened within it was just how realistic it felt. He never judged her for her quirks, he broke through her walls and pushed her in a non-manipulative and genuine way, and always offered his support no matter what. Usually with romance novels, it can go a little over the top with grand gestures to win someone over and heart wrenching confessions of love with gorgeous prose, and it wasn’t like that this time and it was actually rather refreshing. Sometimes the sweetest thing a guy can do is bring their girl a specialty starbucks drink when they meet up after his shift, he offers to drive you home to see your sick dad in the hospital even though it’s hours away, or he’s a total gentleman who admits he’s in love first and says he won’t do anything sexually that she doesn’t initiate first. This romance just simple, and that should be enough!
- The Author’s Character Work! Rainbow Rowell is really good at writing those quirky, oddball characters with plenty of complexity and a method to their madness. Each of them have their own distinctness to them, and you’ll never get confused with any of them or get their names mixed up. there’s an honesty about them in the sense that I feel like just about everyone in real life has met people who remind them of each and every one of these characters. There’s definitely a line straight down the middle and you either like a character or you don’t, there’s not a whole lot of in between, at least that’s the impression I got!
Sometimes writing is running downhill, your fingers jerking behind you on the keyboard the way your legs do when they can’t quite keep up with gravity.”– Rainbow Rowell, “Fangirl”
What I Didn’t Like:
- Her Sister Wren Abandoning Her…Wren was a real piece of work throughout this book, and I was so frustrated with her most of the time! How could she so easily ditch her sister without a second thought, especially when she knew the anxiety issues Cath has and all that they’ve gone through together growing up, then just replaced her with Courtney, which no offense to her, wasn’t really an upgrade. I get her behavior to a certain degree: with college and new beginnings, it is a normal reaction to want to strike out and try new things, to test the waters and experiment, but know where you come from and don’t take the people who actually care about you for granted!
- Their Mother…What a bitch-a-rooney-dooney she was! I was totally on Cath’s side with this whole situation, even if a small chunk of me understood Wren’s need to have her come back into her life. But seriously… who ditches their family on 9/11? Like, the actual 9/11?!
- Too Much Fanfiction…So it sucks to say this about the book considering a huge them about it was about writing fanfiction, but I was not a fan of the passages of Cath’s story that we got. I know it would’ve been worse to not have any of them at all in the story, especially since there’s such an emphasis on it, but I thought there was just too much of it. I liked the parts when Cath read it to Levi for the most part, but I also never really got a gay vibe from Simon and Baz that everyone was totally gushing about. Not that I’m not for a gay relationship between a fictional wizard and vampire, but I wasn’t sold on the execution of what we were given.
- The Plot Felt Too Slow In Parts…This story did feel like it dragged in quite a few places, which can be a side effect of a character-driven story such as this one. Maybe it could’ve been a shorter story in general, or something totally shocking could’ve been added?
- The Ending Could’ve Been More Grand…For some reason I was totally picturing a much bigger way to end the story, like the author of the Simon Snow franchise found Cath’s fanfiction on the internet and offered her a publishing collaboration deal or something like that. It felt like not as much actually happened by the time the actual ending took place, and it’d been a whole ten months of the school year!
‘No,’ Cath said, ‘Seriously. Look at you. You’ve got your shit together, you’re not scared of anything. I’m scared of everything. And I’m crazy. Like maybe you think I’m a little crazy, but I only ever let people see the tip of my crazy iceberg. Underneath this veneer of slightly crazy and socially inept, I’m a complete disaster.’”– Rainbow Rowell, “Fangirl”
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell is a cute, genuine, and real take on growing up during an eventful moment in a young girl’s life: starting her freshman year of college and having to deal with major change from what she’s grown up used to. It’s a coming-of-age story filled with distinct characters, humor, angst, fanfiction, and first love that I really enjoyed for the most part, but still felt like something was still just missing that keeps it from becoming a hit classic that would have a lot more people refer back to it. It’s character-driven, and maybe it just had too many slower moments to keep it from really picking up, plotwise. However, It invokes feelings of nostalgia from either your own college days or from the fandoms you grew up being a part of; the memories this book helps invoke certainly does feel like a little gift from the past to warm your heart, which I think is the main reason that a lot of readers really enjoy this title.
One addition I would to make is that the author has teamed up with Gabi Nam, and almost paying homage to her fandom roots and themes with this book, they’ve transformed this story into a manga! Check it out in the link HERE and I can say I’d definitely be interested to check out this version of the book myself! Maybe it’ll translate better into this format, who knows!
Another addition is that now that Fangirl is under my belt is how I now get to read Carry On, which stars Simon Snow, the author’s knockoff version of Harry Potter, and how it reads like the work that Cath was working on in this book! Someone told me it’s basically a gay version of HP and I was sold! I have a copy on my shelf to read, and once I have a few other titles read under my belt first, I can’t wait to see what Rainbow Rowell did with this idea.
Thanks for Reading!
— Nick Goodsell