Considering that I read this a few months ago, I’m not quite as late to the party as it looks, but I’m still rather late. As much as I enjoyed Attachments, and as much as I trusted everyone else’s recommendations, I was still a bit skeptical. I think this might be because almost every other piece of YA I’ve read is on the dystopian or fantasy side of things. How could a story about two teenagers in the ’80s be that exciting or groundbreaking?
Fangirl (2013) by Rainbow Rowell is her third book and the third one by her that I’ve read. In fact, Rowell is on my list of “read everything she writes, no matter what the topic.” Rowell’s latest book centers around Cath, a young woman from Omaha, Nebraska, leaving her father and home for the first time to attend college in Lincoln. Cath is a strong introvert, also dealing with social anxiety and self esteem problems. Any new situations are challenging, so the upheavel in her life that college represents is very difficult for her. Cath’s twin sister, Wren, is also starting college, but instead of sustaining their comforting pairing, Wren wants to break out and meet new people. Cath’s life is centered around writing fan fiction for a young adult fantasy series, and it is this that she uses to avoid dealing with her real life. The book follows Cath through her first year of college. Like Rowell’s other books, this was a nice, sweet story, with realistic, likable people dealing with their own personal challenges. Cath deals with some heavy problems, including her relationship with her mother and mental illness in her family, but the main focus on the story is Cath growing into her life.
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What an adorable book. I read this with a grin on my face, as it was such a good depiction of being at work. Okay, I might be more of an IM girl with my work friends, but the whole stream of conversation that you can keep up through a day while managing to work at the same time is exactly like this. I truly hope that my conversation isn’t popping any red flags because I would hate for anyone to read some of the nonsense conversation we get into.
Beth and Jennifer are two friends who work at a newspaper office. It’s 1999, so email is still a bit of a novelty. They spend their days maintaining an ongoing conversation about all their shizz – relationship issues, family, everything. What they don’t realise is that their conversation has raised a flag with Lincoln in the IT Security Office. At first he reads their emails in his role to monitor the improper use, but he soon becomes drawn into their story. Though he’s never met them, the more he reads, the more he falls for one of them. But how can he possibly tell her that he’s fallen in love with her through reading her private conversations with her friend?
This is a wonderful story and I’ll definitely be looking for more by this author. Though normally the idea of a book written in email conversation would be enough for me to set it aside, here it really is more of a back and forth conversation between the two girls (no painful email formatting etc.) and is further broken up by chapters about Lincoln. It works really well and I would recommend this novel wholeheartedly.
So I’ve had this review open and up on my computer now for days (weeks, really, since I finished the book almost a month ago now), and I just keep staring at that blank cursor, trying to figure out how to convey all these FEELINGS I am FEELING about this book.
The short of it? I loved this book, and Rainbow Rowell, miraculously, has produced not one, not two, but THREE books that I hands down LOVED this year. And not loved, like that was fun and I enjoyed it, loved like, oh man, this book stared into my soul.
The long of it? Well, that’s what I’ve been having trouble with.
“What the fuck is the fandom?”
Fangirl is Cath’s story, and in many ways it’s a very personal one. Cath is going away to college for the first time, and she’s not very happy about it. Her identical twin sister, Wren, doesn’t want to be roommates and has begun to pull away from Cath, cutting off all her hair, and for the most part, abandoning the Simon Snow fandom she and Cath had been such a huge part of for so long. Simon Snow is basically like Harry Potter in Cath’s/Rowell’s world. The whole world is obsessed with him, and no one possibly more than Cath. She takes refuge in Simon Snow when worrying about her bipolar father becomes too much, when her social anxiety gets the best of her, when she feels Wren pulling even farther away from her. And Cath has fans of her own. Her fanfic, “Carry On, Simon,” gets thousands of hits per day, and almost no one in her “real” life understands her obsession with Simon and his vampire roommate Baz (who in Cath’s world are also secretly in love with one another — so on top of being a fic writer, she’s also a slash fic writer, which puts her even more on the fringes).
Cath’s specific eccentricities aren’t ones I necessarily share, but they’re rooted in a place that feels very familiar to me. Her fear of change, her desire to lose herself in fictional worlds, her inability to connect with other people without quite a bit of effort, her fear of her dorm’s cafeteria (which is just a manifestation of the hard time she has adapting to new habits and places). But most of all, how her love of Simon Snow and the fandom she participates so actively in acts both as a refuge from the outside world, and something that further separates her from it. The ‘normals’ in her life do not understand at all what it is she does, and she takes the opportunity to use that gulf of experience to further alienate herself from those around her. See above quote, which comes form her roommate, Reagan, a brash girl who takes it upon herself to help Cath out of her shell, even though Cath would very much rather be alone.
“I feel sorry for you, and I’m going to be your friend.”
“I don’t want to be your friend,” Cath said as sternly as she could. “I like that we’re not friends.”
“Me, too. I’m sorry you ruined it by being so pathetic.”
The very weird thing about Cath and people like her (me, for instance), is that as much as we crave solitude and distance ourselves from other people very much on purpose, we also simultaneously and conversely crave the lifelines that more extroverted people extend to us, and are often grateful in hindsight for the pushes from others to get us out of our comfort zones. That’s what Reagan does for Cath (and to a certain extent, it’s what Wren used to do for Cath) — pushes her outside of her head and reminds her that she’s capable of more than she gives herself credit for, and that her fears and anxieties protect her, yes, but they also prevent her from experiencing her life.
Reagan is also hilarious. I should mention that part.
And with Reagan comes Levi (delicious, delicious Levi). The two of them comprise Cath’s social circle during her freshman year, as she tries to navigate her new semi-adult life, the pressures of school, and the perils of her major (Creative Writing), which includes a very cute boy slash writing partner named Nick, and a professor that Cath very much looks up to and wants to impress.
If all of this sounds boring, I apologize. Because Fangirl is anything but boring. Cath’s inner life is rich and complicated, full of conflicting desires and feelings. Rainbow Rowell’s characters, and by extension her dialogue, fairly leap off the page. They feel real in a way that characters rarely do in fiction, and the situations they find themselves in, the things they say, feel like things people would actually say. They feel like things my friends and I would say. They feel like friends.
“I’d rather pour myself into a world I love and understand than try to make something up out of nothing.”
Besides the novelty of reading a book about a girl who might actually exist in real life, probably the most notable thing about Fangirl is the way that it engages with fan culture. People who participate in fan culture (and I’m not talking about casual participation here) are set apart from people who don’t. Fan culture is like Fight Club — the first rule is that you don’t talk about
Fight Club Fan Culture. And not because it’s something to be ashamed of inherently, but because it’s something that people who don’t participate do not understand. And speaking from experience, regardless of whether or not non-participants actually look down upon participants, there’s this pervasive sense that the shaming is happening behind your back anyway. Fanfiction is not real writing. Fanfiction is plagiarism. Fanfiction is for people who can’t think up their own ideas.
The genius of Fangirl is that while it’s busying demystifying fans and fandom and deshaming them in the process, it also acknowledges that those are actual thoughts people might have (i.e. the reaction of Cath’s professor, or Reagan’s initial reaction — again, see above), it also suggests that the more important realization to be had here is that these are fears Cath also secretly has about herself. Cath loses herself in fanfiction for good reasons, but for bad ones as well. It’s easier for her to keep playing around in Simon’s world than to find herself in her own writing.
“You give away nice like it doesn’t cost you anything.”
So yeah, Fangirl is about growing up and writing and making friends and the power of communities and the bonds between families, but it’s also about love, something else that Cath is afraid to open herself up to. I’m not going to say too much about this aspect of the plot because I don’t want to spoil it, but I will say that Cath falling in love hit me like a ton of bricks to the stomach. I love how Rainbow writes Cath falling in love the same way she writes the way Cath lives, how she keeps everything inside to protect herself, and how satisfying it is when she finally lets herself give in.
I read this book fast and I read it hard, and when I was done I wanted to start all over again. Rainbow Rowell is good. She’s very good. And if she continues to write books like this, I can’t promise I won’t lose my damn mind every time I read one.
If you are a regular follower of reviews on the Cannonball blog you know that there are a group of dedicated Rainbow Rowell’s fans who are spreading the gospel of this author. I am happy to report that I now include myself in the group, although I may not be as rabid as some.
The story revolves around three characters, but I’d say the protagonist is Lincoln. Lincoln is 28, a multiple degree holder with a broken heart which remained unhealed more than 7 years after his first great love, and he is finding adulthood difficult to transition to. His journey into his adult self begins when he becomes employed at the local newspaper as their technology security person leading up to Y2K.
Lincoln’s main job is to check the security program which catches inappropriate emails. This is where we are introduced to the two other main characters, Jennifer and Beth. Best friends Jennifer, a copy editor, and Beth, an entertainment writer, treat their work email as a personal chat service (which I am EXTREMELY guilty of). Lincoln has to read the flagged emails and decide if the writers need to be sent a warning, he becomes so enthralled with Beth and Jennifer’s correspondence he never sends those warnings, and in fact becomes emotionally involved in their lives.
Much has been said about the creepy aspect of Lincoln’s job and how as a narrative device it could turn the reader off. I personally wasn’t, but that may be because I was thoroughly warned. Much of the action in the second two thirds of the book revolves around the steps Lincoln takes in his continuing journey into true independence and adulthood; meanwhile chronicling his growing attraction to the woman he is discovering Beth to be from her writings to Jennifer.
I actually started reading this novel during my summer malaise, and took about 6 weeks off between the first 100 pages and the rest of the book. This did shade my understanding of the book (for example I got very confused when Beth is describing her Cute Boy, I didn’t realize initially it was Lincoln), and my appreciation thereof, so my 4 star rating may turn into a 5 upon rereading. But for now Ms. Rowell has created an intriguing novel that is as engrossing as it is difficult to explain.
But what really sold me on this book was the characterization. I could not help but fall in love with each of our leads as they navigated their various life struggles. I don’t know the last time I read such honest character reactions to the various foibles and flaws demonstrated by Jennifer, Beth, and Lincoln. By the time we get to the end of the novel and everyone has finally made the choices they needed to make to more fully live their lives, you can’t help but be glad that you were along for the ride.
Holy Trinity becomes Holy Quadrinity, with the addition of Rainbow Rowell, after Fangirl. Or would Mount Rushmore sound better, since I’ve never heard anyone use the word “quadrinity” and had to first make sure it was real before I started using it? Call it whatever you like, she’s in it now. She’s to books what, for me, Breaking Bad is to television, what The Reign of Kindo are to music, what Pixar is to film, which is to say inhumanely consistent and borderline perfect. She’s three books into her career as a writer, and all three thus far have received a perfect score. Her output alone is almost enough for me to stop thinking Rainbow is a bit of a weird name. Almost. Prior to writing this, I googled how to pronounce her last name (rhymes with towel) and found out, yes, it is her given name and, yes, she did think of changing it. To what, you ask? Sarah with an H. She didn’t since thought her friends wouldn’t be able to take her seriously. I’m not so sure about that; however, I do like the alliteration.
But it’s her writing that I’m here to discuss, Fangirl in particular, so I’ll just get to it already. As I learned in trying to describe her books to my coworkers when I went about demanding they read them and pronto, you just have to read them to understand, which is why I’m not going to waste my time on a plot-focused review, not that that’s ever been my style. This is going to be more a discussion of her body of work as a whole and that singular quality that ties it all together and separates her from all her other fellow YA authors. Put as succinctly as I can manage, if an alien visited our planet wanting to learn about “love,” I would merely suggest it read Rainbow Rowell’s oeuvre. Her characters can be nothing like me personality wise, or in terms of their circumstances, and she’ll still manage to unlock my own memories of love in a manner that brings me almost to tears. She can make little things like holding hands (Eleanor & Park) or, my personal favorite, cuddling (Fangirl) sound like humankind’s entire reserve of romance being expended, like a balloon that’s been untied and begun deflating, if the gas inside were laughing gas or another gaseous substance with similarly pleasant effects. Reading her books gets me as high on love as actually being in love does. Continue reading
At this point, I really don’t know what I can say about Rainbow Rowell that I haven’t already said. Or preached, I guess, would be a better term. If you haven’t read Eleanor & Park, what are you waiting for? If you haven’t read Attachments, well, I’m not sure I want to know you anymore.
And now, here we have Fangirl. And again, come on. Go out and get these books. Read them right now. Use your Amazon Prime account or run to the library. You won’t be sorry.
Fangirl is about identical twin sisters Cather (Cath) and Wren. They are freshman at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and have very different feelings about it. Wren is excited — she wants to meet guys and party and drink and live it up. Cath is a bit more of a homebody (that’s really saying it lightly) and isn’t really very enthused about doing anything but sitting in her dorm room and writing. She doesn’t even find out where the cafeteria is until a few weeks into school when her roommate (the wonderful Reagan) drags her forcibly, realizing that Cath has been living on jars of peanut butter and boxes of protein bars.
Cath is a gifted writer, and almost all of her time and energy go into writing Simon Snow (think Harry Potter, but a magician, NOT a wizard) fanfiction. Cath is one of the most popular fanfic writers out there, and her speciality is writing slash fiction about Simon and his vampire roommate, Baz. Not exactly your typical college activity.
Cath meets a few friends — she has a major crush on her writing partner, Nick, and she becomes friendly (against her will) with Reagan. But more than anyone else, she bonds with Reagan’s boyfriend, the simply adorable Levi.
Reading about Levi made me want to go outside for a walk in the sun (or in the snow, or whatever) and drink Gingerbread Lattes from Starbucks. He made me want to read The Outsiders and go to museums. Levi is the kind of guy you want to know in real life, and his “joie de vivre” leaps off the page with his every word and movement. Rainbow Rowell has a real gift for writing sympathetic male characters (Park, Lincoln) that are better than most men you’ll ever meet in your life.
Of course, not everything in Cath & Wren’s lives is centered on college. Their dad is home, alone, which isn’t a good thing. He’s a bit manic (the word bipolar is never actually used, but I’m guessing that’s the situation) and doesn’t always remember to eat, or sleep, or even go home from work without his girls to remind him. And their mom? Out of the picture for the most part. She left the girls on 9/11, never to return. But she decides to check back in with them all these years later, not as a mom, but more as a “friend”. This doesn’t really go over too well, if you can imagine.
I loved pretty much every minute of this book. Thank you, fellow Cannonballers, for spreading the word about Rainbow Rowell and getting her on my radar.
My only complaint about this book? That I finished it, and there aren’t any more books by Rainbow Rowell to read right now. Her next one doesn’t come out until 2014.