Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

This book was written for me. And if you’ve ever felt closer to fictional people than real ones or stayed up late writing fanfiction about improbable pairings – if you know the meaning of OTP and/or slash – then it was written for you too.

Fangirl-Rainbow-Rowell-Cover-677x1024

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 anymore – 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 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.

Now Cath has to decide whether she’s ready to open her heart to new people and new experiences, and she’s learning that there’s more to learn about love than she ever thought possible . . .

So this is the story of Cath, a girl utterly dependent on the magical world of Simon Snow, a character similar to Harry Potter (and whom she has paired with the equivalent of Draco Malfoy!) Cath has just started college with her twin sister, Wren, and intends to hole-up in her dorm, pretend her unwanted roommate doesn’t exist and finish her epic fanfic rather than deal with actual people.

Cath broke open a box of protein bars. She had four more boxes and three giant jars of peanut butter shoved under her bed. If she paced herself she, she might not have to face the dining hall until October.

I enjoyed Fangirl much more than I anticipated. Rainbow Rowell has the gift of saying a lot with little. The prose is beguilingly simple but eloquent and I found myself fooled into skimming past gems because they were scattered so casually.

Cath shifted her bag uncomfortably on her back.  Look at me – I’m a stock photo of a college student.

The serious moments in the book are relieved but not dismissed by humour and seeds are sewn early that Cath is not the only one in her family who is damaged and coping in their own way.

Wren acting out, Cath acting in. (Violently, desperately in.  Journey to the Center of the Earth in.)

Despite her shyness, Cath is a strong and likable character you can’t help rooting for with a sarcastic inner (sometimes outer) dialogue. I loved her.

“Are you meeting people?” Yeah, she thought. You people.  “Not intentionally,” she said.

There were many scenes I could relate to, including the “INTRUDER ALERT!” in Cath’s head when she first tried to write with strangers in her room, and the description of the fanficcer world brought back so many memories that I’m tempted to dive back into my fevered teenage imaginings about certain anime characters who are BLATANTLY in denial (*cough*Duo Maxwell/Heero Yuy*cough*).

It wasn’t just a bunch of girls trading cheer-up fics and cracked-out “I wrote this to make you laugh” stories

Someone once told me that the more accomplished the writer, the more effortless their writing appears to the reader. If that’s the case then Rainbow Rowell is a very accomplished writer. I feel like what most of us have to beat our heads against the keyboard for she just sneezes onto the screen (Sorry!) She has a gift for seemingly throwaway descriptions and a kind of reverse engineered observation.

She smiled around the room at people who weren’t Cath.

And her descriptions of one character in particular were truly inspired:

He looked like someone with a steerage ticket on the Titanic.  Somebody who’d be standing in line at Ellis Island. Undiluted and old-blooded.

I love the fact that what could easily be a plot-hijackingly important character is introduced and yet we are not fobbed off with an unrealistic ‘all is forgiven and happy-ever-after’ family resolution. I think this book is very realistic, with the American school setting for once not overly glamorized. Cath has a difficult first year and you can feel the painful passage of that year. Part of me feels Fangirl could be a little shorter but another thinks that the delayed reunions, confrontations, epiphanies and growth add to the realism of an awkward, clueless girl’s journey towards her potential self. The fact that Cath is attending college with her identical twin added beautifully to the plot and, once again, did not dominate it. This is definitely Cath’s story as, despite her best efforts, she finds herself making friends (or “sponsors” as she calls them). And more.

“But you’re so helpless sometimes. It’s like watching a kitten with its head stuck in a Kleenex box.”

Between each chapter is an excerpt either from Cath’s own fanficton or the original Simon Snow books. Sometimes these excerpts added clear, appreciable layers to the plot/character development, but other times their contribution was less obvious. I could have done with fewer of them as not all seemed to support either the previous or following scenes. Some just seemed to be there for the continuity of that format which shouldn’t really be enough for unnecessary words to buy a ticket to the page.

Nevertheless, and dangerous though it may be to start a book review blog with such a high rating, I’m giving Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell a 4.5/5.

I’m looking forward to reading Eleanor and Park by the same author!

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