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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Review of Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Official Book Summary:  

In Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl, 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?

I'm going to preface this by saying that I am indeed a "fangirl."

I've been involved in fandom since I was a young child. Reading and writing fanfiction, making graphics on Photoshop, Livejournal and Tumblr, writing meta, squealing over television shows, movies and books, attending midnight releases, making and watching fan-vids, having a ridiculous amount of fan-merchandise, making Star Trek and comic book references, etc. -- you name it, I am so, so, so into it. 

When it comes to geek-cred, it's safe to say that I have my certified geek credit. I'm perfectly okay with that, too.

Do I feel like this was a wonderful book? Absolutely. Did I love it a lot? Absolutely. Do I feel like this was a great example of a fangirl's life? Nope. However, I'll expand on this a little bit later.

This book centers around Cather (or Cath for short) who prefers spending time on the internet and writing fanfiction for her favorites series entitled "Simon Snow," instead of partying like her twin sister, Wren. Cath and Wren have always been a duo in everything -- including their fandom life. Cath would write, Wren would beta (a fandom term for edit). They always attended the "Simon Snow," premieres together and their room is covered in merchandise.

Cath was always in an isolated bubble, but Wren always managed to bring her out of it.

If there was a party, there was no question in Cath being invited because they were always a duo. Wren was the one who always pushed Cath to try new experiences and to break away from her introversion. 

Fandom was their thing... but Wren is drifting away from it. Not only is Wren drifting away from their fandom life, but in their day to day life too. Such as choosing a stranger for a roommate instead of Cath and not inviting Cath to tag along with her to parties like she did in high-school.

Besides her problems with Wren, Cath is dealing with her mentally unwell father. Cath feels like everything in her life is falling apart -- she's constantly worried about her father and sister, feels alone and is scared of everything. 

While Wren gets a new roommate with a like-minded goal of partying named Courtney, Cath gets assigned to an older student named Reagan. Reagan is sharp, witty and is the total opposite of Cath. She has a lot of "boyfriends," and does party. It's like they're fated to hate one another. But Reagan slowly brings out a different perspective of life for Cath.

Through Reagan, Cath meets Levi. Levi is one Reagan's boyfriends (or at least, maybe he is one of them since Reagan has a lot). And slowly Levi and Cath become friends -- and slowly they go from kind-of-friends, to friends, to two people who genuinely care immensely for each other and have a crush on each-other. 

He's aware of Cath's fanfiction and fandom life (thanks to Reagan) and he doesn't judge Cath for it or think she's weird. If anything he's interested in it solely because Cath is. Instead of making her feel like a freak (which Cath is sure he will), he thinks it's interesting. Slowly Cath begins reading her fanfiction to him.

I loved that Levi let Cath finally feel comfortable to express her interest in fandom -- not like she was a freak or weirdo for enjoying a hobby that thousands of others enjoy!

Can I let you in on a secret? Unlike the typical stereotype that most geeks don't have significant others, I can attest that I know a lot of people in fandom who have awesome and healthy romantic relationships. The same way that I know people who enjoy sports as hobbies who have horrible romantic relationships. There's this horrible stigma that people who enjoy fandom abnormal. Fandom is made of diverse people -- people who are introverts, people who are extroverts, etc. -- and that's one of the best parts. It's made up of different people from all over the world. 

It's something that I tried to keep a secret because I felt like a freak myself. I used to wonder if people would think I was weird because I was so immersed in fandom... but now that I'm older, I realized that fandom is a hobby.

It's not weird or freakish. It's a hobby. It's something that I love, brings me joy and helps me out of my little introverted bubble. Some people enjoy sports, some people enjoy fantasy football. For me, it's fandom. As well as an array of other hobbies.

I did relate a lot to Cath. I felt like her college experience was a lot more realistic and honest; especially her problems with her anxiety, her relationships and not relating or interested in the typical college experience. I'm a shy and awkward introvert like Cath so it was refreshing to read a story where it doesn't condemn her for not thinking it was this perfectly wonderful world.

I think what I loved the most throughout the book were the relationships. Something that brought me so much enjoyment was seeing Reagan and Cath's friendship. It showed that friends don't need to be just alike or without flaws; they just need to care for one another. It also showed how complex some relationships can be. I loved how real it felt while seeing Cath interact with her sister and her father. Levi and Cath's relationship was also one of my favorite things.

As for the whole, I really did enjoy (even love) this book. It was definitely one of the best YA books that I've read throughout this year.

However there were a few things that really bugged me one. A lot of the things that I found frustrating or irritating seemed to be glossed over.

Most of my qualms stemmed from how fandom was presented and a lot of Cath's characteristics, as well as "Simon Snow." First of all, I don't understand how the 'Harry Potter,' series and 'Simon Snow,' exist in the same universe... at all. It's obvious that Simon is a fictional form of Harry. That made my brain hurt. I'm curious how the author is going to come out with a follow up of Simon's story without directly copying from HP itself.

This part made me want to shake Cath and say, "You cannot be serious." The excerpt is below:
"'Our professor asked us to write a scene with an untrustworthy narrator. I wrote something about Simon and Baz. She didn't get it. She thought it was plagiarism.' Cath forced herself to use that word, felt the tar wake up twist a twist in her stomach."
I can say that I genuinely have written and read a lot of fanfics. I would never submit a fanfic for a grade... especially in an Upper-Writing Fiction course! It's just so ridiculous. Nobody I know would ever do that, either. I don't know if this part was supposed to illustrate Cath's mental issues or not, but it just made her look like an idiot. There's no way that I believe Cath (who is shown to the reader as taking her academics seriously) would ever think it was a good idea.

Something else that rubbed me wrong was Cath's perception of Levi's learning disability. It was obvious that Levi suffered from one, but had never been presented with a solution to help. A lot of Cath's commentaries are on it were really ableist and unkind. A learning disability does not equate being stupid. There tended to be iffy language in regards to some issues, as well.

Despite some iffy areas, I did sincerely enjoy this book. In comparison to most YA that I've read this year, it was definitely one of the best so far. I was hesitant going into this one because I didn't enjoy 'Eleanor and Park' a lot. If you were like me and didn't like it too much, this one is definitely much, much better.

If you're looking for a coming of age novel that feels realistic and shows the intricacies of relationships, this is definitely one of the best. If you're looking for a book on fandom, maybe not so much. But if you're looking for a coming of age story of a complex teenaged (and geeky) girl, this is definitely for you. 

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