Book Review: Fangirl

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Author: Rainbow Rowell
ISBN: 978-1-4472-6322-7
RRP: $16.99

I have read some great things about Fangirl so when it arrived on my TBR pile I was quite excited to get stuck into it.  This was my introduction to Rowell’s work and though I had head great things my life’s been pretty hectic of late so I hadn’t retained any information about the book, just that it was well worth reading so I went in not really knowing what to expect.

I really enjoyed Fangirl, the characters were interesting and engaging. Cath, short for Cather, is our main character; she is terminally introverted and disturbingly attached to the characters of a well known book (and movie) series for early teens. She has a twin sister Wren, and I must say I do love the names and the reason they were named that way. The two have just started out at college and here their pronounced differences are much more apparent. All their lives they have been virtually inseparable but Wren wants college to be a time for her to spread her wings and be her own person, no longer part of a pair. Cath struggles with the new dynamic, she’s spent her entire life sharing a room with Wren and now that they have moved away to school Wren doesn’t want them to share a dorm, leaving painfully shy Cath completely out of her depth in a new place and living with a surly stranger.

Cath has quite a fulfilling life, she spends hours a day talking to people so it’s not that she has no friends; it’s just that it is all a virtual cyber life revolving around her FanFixx.net persona Magicath. Cath is that involved with the Simon Snow series that she spends countless hours on fanfiction site FanFixx.net writing Simon Snow stories, and interacting with like minded fans. Her Simon Snow fan fiction has become so popular that she has a fan following of her own. She is currently working on her own Snow epic to end the series her way and she is on a self enforced deadline to have it finished before the eighth and final Simon Snow novel is released.

This brings us to my biggest issue with Fangirl. Interspersed throughout the book there are excerpts from the actual Simon Snow novels by Gemma T. Leslie as well as fanfic penned by Magicath, and sometimes her writing partner Wrenegade. At times these excerpts seemed to tie in with the real life happenings of Cath but more often than not they were unnecessary detractors from the story. I could have overlooked that I think, once I did some research and discovered that there is no Simon Snow series and it was a fabrication by Rowell for Fangirl, except that Simon Snow screamed Harry Potter at me way too loudly. I want to say Simon Snow almost seemed like Harry Potter fanfiction to me but that’s not quite right because fanficiton keeps the world and the characters and changes the stories. It’s more like Simon Snow is an homage to Harry Potter.

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On the other hand I like the way Rowell has addressed fanfiction and the phenomena that is fandom, which I think was another reason it screamed Potter at me so loudly because I know there is quite a lot of fanfiction devoted to Harry Potter. She explores the reasons that people write fanfiction and addresses the community that has grown up on the internet of thousands of people brought together by their love of a set of characters. It makes me wonder, as I sit here writing this, if fanfiction is a creation of cyber-space or if it predates the web. How would these communities have come together and shared their alternate stories before the internet?

Cath’s devotion to Simon Snow fandom and her fanfiction is not only a thread running through the entire novel but it is central to one of the conflicts and the whole concept of fanfiction is argued between Cath and a published author. I do like the way this was handled, it highlights some aspects of fanfiction from both sides.

Fangirl is so much more than Cath’s vicarious cyber life as Magicath. She leaves home, is separated from her sister and basically forced to learn to fend for herself, and we discover later on that she was coaxed into college life quite reluctantly – and that was before she knew Wren didn’t want to room with her.

I didn’t go to university so I can’t comprehend college life with the dormitory living, and all my experiences of college life come from American teen movies. I can only imagine how it would impact on one as introverted as Cath, whose roommate starts out quite scary though it turns out she is a protective friend when she realises how unprepared Cath is for college.

Slowly Cath is forced into the real world as college takes up more time and she is left with less to devote to her FanFixx.net account. She starts interacting with people and making her own friends, without Wren by her side, after a very slow start. It took her a month to confess to roommate Reagan that she doesn’t know where the dining hall in their dorm is, and even if she’d known she never would have gone in there on her own; she had no idea of the etiquette in such places. She makes friends with Reagan and Levi, who she believes to be one of Reagan’s numerous boyfriends. In her first semester Cath breaks up with her boyfriend of 3 years, without the expected heartbreak, makes friends of her own and starts to live as an individual rather than a twin. Wren is making the most of her first semester as an individual, partying, drinking and living it up with her roommate; all the while distancing herself further and further from Cath. The two are forced to face issues from their past, both in extremely different manners which only serves to push them further apart.

Fangirl is a captivating look at the world of fandom, first love, families and friendship. I enjoy reading about twins, especially when on the surface they are so different. In a lot of ways Cath and Wren reminded me of Elizabeth and Jessica from Sweet Valley High. I would enjoy reading more about these two but I am pretty sure Fangirl is a stand alone, it has certainly put Rainbow Rowell on my radar and I would like to read more of her work.

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