So, now seems as good a time as any to make a confession. While I do love me some Serious Literature, I am also a huge fan of Young Adult fiction. There, I said it. But truth be told, there is some really excellent writing out there aimed at ‘young people’ (or people that still feel like teenagers…ahem). This is perfectly exemplified by the amazing Fangirl written by Rainbow Rowell and the subject of today’s review.
I have previously written about Rainbow Rowell’s work in my review of Eleanor & Park. I fell totally in love with that book and immediately went out and bought Rowell’s second foray into YA – Fangirl, which I devoured in one sitting.
Our heroine is Cath; quiet, anxious, caring and brilliant, Cath is about to make a big life change – she is starting University. While she knows she should be excited, this change is filling her with dread and worry in equal measure. She’s concerned about leaving her somewhat unpredictable father behind and afraid of having to start afresh in a new place, particularly as she will be without the protection of her twin sister Wren, who despite attending the same college, has opted to live separately to Cath for the first time*. She is filled with anxiety about finding her way round, managing her classes and meeting new people. However, there is one source of solace: Simon Snow. Simon Snow is a Harry Potter-like book series that Cath has grown up loving. She has become a writer of fan-fiction for the series and has written thousands of words – and gained thousands of fans along the way. As she excitedly waits for the final book to be released, she races to finish her own final Simon Snow story, whilst trying to juggle her classes, care for her father and sister and adjust to her new life.
I’m going to get right out there and say that Fangirl filled me with utter delight and joy from beginning to end. SO much joy, you guys. Cath is lovely and one of the best YA heroines I’ve ever come across because she is so reassuringly, refreshingly normal. I related to her in almost every way and Rowell writes very non-judgementally about Cath’s struggles with things that seem straightforward, like getting dinner in her university halls of residence. I think almost everyone would be able to sympathise and understand the difficulties in starting somewhere new and the feeling of having to repeatedly step out of your comfort zone. It’s exhausting.
I don’t know much about fan-fiction or it’s multiple communities, but I think Rowell does a great job of showing why people might choose to write stories based on things they love and how invested in these stories people can become. She also writes sympathetically about the confusion that occasionally attends fan-fiction and the blurred lines between originality and plagiarism it holds for some people. Rowell’s use of Simon Snow as a crutch for Cath is very clever and easy to understand. We all have things we turn to for comfort when we’re struggling. Worlds we get lost in through books, films, TV, video games, music etc. Places that take us away from ourselves and make us feel safe. Cath retreats into Simon Snow because it’s a place of security. It’s a love she shared with her sister, who she misses. She feels like it allows her to be herself and she can bury herself in her writing and the stories and ignore all the hard parts of life. But inevitably, real life pushes its way through the curtains eventually and Rowell imbues in Cath an inner strength and resilience that she only slowly realises she possesses, which allows her to be a fangirl, but to be something else as well. Cath’s struggle to produce (totally) original writing for her professor starts to show her that Simon Snow is becoming a safety net, instead of a pleasure.
Though Cath is our heroine, Rowell crafted some wonderful supporting characters. It is great of great credit to Rowell’s writing that you still feel sympathy for Wren, Cath’s twin sister. Even as she is acting out and pushing Cath away, you still care about the character and will her to sort things out. Their dad is wonderfully drawn. Having a parent need you to basically regulate them and ensure they are taking care of things when it should the other way round is very wearing. Rowell is great at crafting complex characters who aren’t always perfect and presenting them without commentary. There is no implied criticism or values imposed here, only sympathy and an attempt to understand why people are the way they are and that imperfect isn’t bad at all.
Best of all are Cath’s brutally honest, take no prisoners roommate, Reagan and her friend, Levi. (Ahh, odd, wise and lovely Levi). These characters are wonderful because they do something brilliant: they accept Cath for who she is. They appreciate the quirks that she thinks she has to hide. They draw her out of her shell and into the world without once asking her to compromise herself. They embrace her adoration of Simon Snow and just…go with it. Being a massive fan of something and completely into everything about it is FUN. That’s why we do it. And being geeky and having enthusiasm for something is endearing because it’s sincere. Rowell recognises that and does a great job of representing the fact that for Cath, being a part of the Simon Snow fandom isn’t just a hobby, it’s become a key part of who she is, because of what it’s given her.
Fangirl is lovely. There’s no better way to describe it; I could read it again and again. If you’ve ever felt awkward and weird, loved something that other people thought was a little strange or struggled with the realities of growing up – this is the book for you.
Oh, and expect more YA reviews to come…
*Fangirl gave me massive Double Act flashbacks throughout – Cath and Wren are like Garnet and Ruby grown up, no?