Once a friend told me that she measured how much a book meant to her by how long she attempted to prolong the reading experience after she’d finished a novel. This week, I’ve been thinking (and agreeing) with that assessment after reading Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell, and finding myself completely unwilling to let go of the story. Instead of starting a new book, I’ve been rereading my favorite scenes and looking up reviews and author interviews on the Internet. And from these blog posts, reviews, and interviews I definitely get the feeling that I’m not the only one that’s reacting to the book this way.
The story is told from 18-year-old Cath’s perspective. You might think that Cath’s name is short for Catherine, but it’s not. Her mother, not expecting twin girls and only having one name picked out, names one daughter Cather and the other daughter Wren. This explains a lot about the girls’ upbringing, their mother’s abandonment, and their reasons for immersing themselves in the fandom of Simon Snow (who Rowell admits is a tribute to Harry Potter).
Cath’s fanfiction written as MagiCath has earned her a huge reputation in the online community, where tens of thousands of other fans read her words. Wren, the bolder twin, wants to leave the fan world behind in order to experience new friends, keg parties, and fraternity boys. Cath views her sister’s actions, along with her refusal to share a dorm room, as a huge betrayal. She both misunderstands and feels jealous of her twin’s actions, while feeling more comfortable eating granola bars in her room and existing in an online world and ignoring the fact that college is a major life change.
There’s enough for a whole novel right there, but Rowell imbibes Cath’s stories with several other conflicts, both internal and external. She also has to deal with:
- A tough, upperclassmen roommate with a boyfriend who’s always in their room.
- A creative writing professor who views fanfiction as blatant plagiarism, and Cath’s struggle to write original prose.
- A cute writing partner who seems to want to keep their relationship only in the library … at least at first.
- Her mother wanting to return to the twins life after almost ten years away.
- Her father’s difficult adjustment to living alone.
At so many points while reading, this book felt like Rowell wrote it just for me. The descriptions of Cath’s social anxiety while starting college were so spot on, and I think her struggle to define herself within the different arenas of real life, online life, and within a fantasy world feels very specific to our current times. Cath makes lots of mistakes. Some times she just digs herself deeper and deeper into holes of her own creation. But who can’t relate to that?
The story of her first year at college is told with humor, surprises, and tenderness. As with Eleanor & Park (which was just named an Amazon Top 10 Book of 2013) the writing is flawless, especially dialogue scenes. Each character, even ones readers meet once or twice, feel real, fully developed, and interesting.
I’m not going to include any spoilers, but there is a romance that is so swoon-worthy … I can’t even talk about it. My heart rate sped up a little right now just thinking about it. I will say that the book totally proves Lauren Willig’s theory that readers fall in love with female characters for their flaws and male romantic leads for being perfect. While perfect is, in my opinion, an incredibly hard thing to write without being boring, Rowell pulls it off.
One last thing to mention, is that Cath’s story is broken up with excerpts from the Simon Snow series and excerpts from her fan fiction. I’m very interested in framing elements in fiction right now. Both of these devices added a lot to the story and helped set the tone and pace.
From now on Rainbow Rowell and all her future books will definitely be on my radar. Time will tell if what I’m feeling towards this book is true love, or infatuation, but this definitely qualifies as one of my favorite books I’ve read this year (and I’ve read A LOT of favorites this year).
It also was started as a NaNoWriMo project – which is the reason I picked it up – which is pretty inspiring if you ask me.