Published by Pan Macmillan on 30th January 2014 (first published 10th September 2013)
Genre: YA, Contemporary
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Cath and Wren are identical twins, and until recently they did absolutely everything together. Now they're off to university and Wren's decided she doesn't want to be one half of a pair any more - she wants to dance, meet boys, go to parties and let loose. It's not so easy for Cath. She's horribly shy and has always buried herself in the fan fiction she writes, where she always knows exactly what to say and can write a romance far more intense than anything she's experienced in real life. Without Wren Cath is completely on her own and totally outside her comfort zone. She's got a surly room-mate 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.I was apprehensive about this book. Coming back to YA after a couple of years of not really reading much fiction, one of the first things I noticed was that Rainbow Rowell was apparently the new biggest name in contemporary YA. I was eager to check her books out at first, and Fangirl's title caught my attention immediately. (I've been a fangirl for almost a decade now!) Plus I recognised that the cover art was drawn by the famous gingerhaze, whose adorable fanart is well-loved in fandom. I was dying to read it.
Now Cath has to decide whether she's ready to open her heart to new people and new experiences, and she's realizing that there's more to learn about love than she ever thought possible...
Then I noticed some negative reviews addressing the misrepresentation of fandom in this book, and my enthusiasm was dampened. What attracted me to this book was the fandom aspect! If that was badly done, then I really had no reason to want to read this book at all. But then I walked into a bookshop and somehow ended up walking out with a copy of Fangirl anyway. I couldn't resist, dammit. I knew I just had to find out for myself whether this was the book for me.
And thankfully, it was!
First of all, I think it's obviously important to address the fandom aspect of this book, as someone who was deeply entrenched in fandom for many years and still dips her toes in it occasionally. I agree with the reviewers who've said that this book isn't a particularly accurate representation of fandom. I just don't understand how there isn't a single mention of any friends Cath has made through fandom. Not a single mention. Cath apparently has a beta reader in Rhode Island. Whom she is never shown interacting with once in this book. Not once. How? It makes Cath seem so isolated and friendless as a fandomer, which just seems utterly impossible given her fame and status in fandom. You just don't get that far in fandom without making lots of close friends that you talk to pretty much every day. Being a writer in fandom isn't just about writing-- which Cath certainly seems to do plenty of. And without the representation of the social side of fandom, Cath's experience seems so much less real to me.
Fandom was a huge part of my life during my teenage years and the friends I made in fandom helped me through a lot of difficult times. I found it hard to make friends in real life whom I could confide in, with whom I could be entirely myself-- but in fandom I felt like I belonged. I found people who understood me. And as I was reading Fangirl, I couldn't help but feel that Cath's experience should be similar to mine. Yet that was just completely missing in the novel, which was disappointing.
However, you'll notice I still gave this book four stars. And that's because the rest of it was all pretty amazing.
Cath! Cath is so sweet. She's fiercely protective of the idea of how her family should be; she cares for her dad in very evident ways. I really liked how she was written as a daughter; I think it's rare to find a father-daughter relationship like this in YA. The bond between Cath and her dad is tangible and wonderful. I think where Cath feels most grown-up to me is in the way she looks after her father, and I love that so much.
I don't personally have any problems with anxiety myself so I can't really venture to say whether Cath's anxiety was written accurately and well, but from my somewhat ignorant viewpoint, it felt like a sympathetic portrayal. Rowell describes how Cath's most anxious moments are all manifested very physically in her stomach-- I liked those details as someone I'm really close to who struggles a lot with anxiety is never really on the best of terms with his stomach, either. I really appreciated that Rowell wrote a female MC who does seem to have real problems with social anxiety, rather than someone who is just socially inept.
The other characters were all hugely interesting. I especially adore Cath's roommate, Reagan. Oh, Reagan. I just love how blunt and fearless she is, how she just takes charge of the situation. She's a real memorable presence in the book. She's just so great! She keeps it real and doesn't take any bullshit. I have heart-eyes for her. The development of her friendship with Cath is one of the highlights of the story.
And of course, Levi. Levi, Levi, Levi. Just an all-round decent guy. So perfect! I love him so much. I just love how unlike most other love interests in YA he doesn't have to be dark and edgy, he isn't brittle or brooding, moody and mysterious. Or like, a jerk with a heart of gold or whatever. He's just. Levi. A bright, open bundle of sunshine and smiles. He tries his best to be there for Cath all the time. He's thoughtful and considerate. He's just so good because teenage girls can read this book and think that this is the kind of boyfriend they can actually look for. Someone who is just very, very kind and caring, someone who's nice to everybody he meets. And the thought of that makes me happy.
Cath discovering herself and her desires as she starts to fall in love is just such a joy to read too.
This whole book is just a joy. I wish it didn't have to end; I wanted to know so much more about what happens to these characters after the end. But that's the spirit of this book, I suppose. It's caring about fiction and characters and wanting to know what happens next. Cath cares about Simon and Baz and she wants to know what happens to them outside of canon; I want to know what happens to Cath and Levi and all the other characters beyond Fangirl. I just love them all so much. What happens next?
One of my favourite parts of this book (it's late in the book, towards the end, but it's not really very specifically spoilery so don't worry if you haven't read the book yet) is when Wren tells Cath that happily ever after isn't cheesy, but it's the most noble and courageous thing you can shoot for. And I just really, really adored this sentiment. I think it's rare to see that stated out loud, and even that seems brave to me. To admit that wanting happily ever after doesn't have to be silly or fanciful, and that you shouldn't be dismissive of yourself for wanting it; to really want it, to try to live it out to the best of your ability-- that's noble and courageous. Because so many people do get their heart broken when they try. You have to be able to overcome your fear of that and try anyway, with your whole heart. It's just a sentiment that's really resonated with me at this particular period of my life, and I think it's possibly the crucial message that lies at the heart of Fangirl.
All in all, I definitely enjoyed this book enough to be tempted to add Eleanor and Park to my to-read list!