Written by: Rainbow Rowell
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Release date: September 10, 2013
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Young Adult
Buy: B&N, Amazon
Add on: Goodreads
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? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?
There are tons of books out there with relatable characters, who are easy to understand and “relate to” on a certain level. If you know me, you know I’m never a fan of books where I can’t relate to the characters at least a little bit – it’s a requirement of a good book, for me. I need to feel something for the characters, and that’s easier to do if they’re relatable and understandable.
But it’s not often that I come across a book where I strongly and immediately relate to the main character. I mean, considering the fact that I read mostly science fiction, or fantasy, or dystopian/post-apocalyptic books, I suppose this isn’t terribly surprising. It’s not like I’m fighting for my life after the destruction of humanity by some futuristic disease that turned everyone aged 26+ into zombies (I stipulate “over 26” because I am 25, and I’d like to think I’m still alive in this post-apocalyptic future). (Actually, based on the YA books I’ve read, I am pretty likely to be one of the “adults” killed, leaving all the young teens fighting for their lives. …Wow, that actually kind of sucks… But I digress.)
Excluding my tendency towards scifi/fantasy – even in the really good “realistic fiction” I’ve read (while the main characters might be relatable in certain ways), there has never been a character who said, “Hey look, I understand you, I understand your anxieties, your passions… You’re not alone!”
And then there was Fangirl. In Cath, Rainbow Rowell gave me a character whom I related to more than any other character I’ve read before, and on an extremely personal level. And I can’t tell you how amazing it felt to read this.
But before I jump into that – the gist of the story. Cath is, first and foremost, a fangirl. Her specific fandom is
Harry Potter Simon Snow, and she eats, sleeps, and breathes this fandom. A huge portion of her life has been devoted to talking about the fandom in forums, making online friends in the fandom, and writing fanfic with her twin sister. She sailed through high school mainly because of her sister – Wren was popular, and the two were inseparable, and Cath sort of coasted along with Wren. Once Cath gets to college, though, her sister wants little to do with her (understandably, to an extent – Wren wants to find her own way). So Cath finds a comfort zone: alone-ness. And she wants to stick to it. She goes to classes, but other than that, she mostly stays in her room, wrapped up in her fandom-ish activities, almost never taking her roommate (and her roommate’s boyfriend) up on offers to go out.
It’s this roommate (and roommate’s boyfriend) who finally starts to get Cath to open up and punch through that protective shell she’s built around herself. …But I can’t go too much farther than that, because that’s the beauty of the story – Cath’s growth throughout the book, and the relationships that help her realize who she is and become more confident in herself.
So, back to the real reason we’re here, and the reason for those 5 stars: Cath. Like I said, Cath is a character whom I related to in the extreme.
First and foremost, I am a fangirl. In high school, my main fandoms were Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, and then in college I got into Doctor Who and Firefly… really, more TV shows than I can name. More recently, as I’ve found my way back to reading, I’ve realized that books are my fandom, if that makes sense. But that’s neither here nor there – Simon Snow, books, whatever – Cath gets it. She loves her fandom. She’s passionate about the world, the characters, the people who share her love for it… I’m pretty sure, if you’re reading this review, you have something like that that you’re passionate about, too.
But also, Cath is extremely introverted. She prefers being alone 90% of the time, reading her books and writing her fanfiction. In the beginning of the book, she stays in her room most of the time, generally immersing herself in her fandom, despite offers to go out and party. See, Cath has a lot of social anxiety. And that, paired with her passion for her fandoms, made her a character that – finally – I completely understood.
There were so many things about Cath that I strongly related to, mostly to do with her preference for solitude or just hanging out with one or two people, over college parties or generally social situations. It also really struck me how talented Cath was, and how her fandom helped her hone her skills and gave her the opportunity to find what she loved to do. But she was also terrified of failure, or of doing something wrong in front of someone and embarrassing herself… I could go on and on. I literally spent the book going, “I KNOW THOSE FEELS.”
Actually, there was one thing that Cath did, which really hit home for me. In the first few weeks of college, on more than one occasion, Cath doesn’t even venture to the dining hall for fear she’ll embarrass herself or be awkward, so she stays in her room and eats granola bars for dinner. …Okay, I’m not saying I’m that extremely introverted… anymore. But that detail above hit home because I’ve felt that exact thing before. When I was in college, there were times when I decided to stay in and eat granola bars instead of having to socialize with people in order to get food. No, I am not joking. (For the record, if I hadn’t had granola bars, I would have gone out and gotten real food. I like food.) But it was this exact thing, and it really hit home for me.
Why am I talking about this? Well, I feel I need to be specific about something (and I chose the above) because I want people who don’t understand Cath to know that she is not unrealistically portrayed. I don’t want her character brushed off because more socially-adept people scoff at her more introverted tendencies. Yes, sometimes she goes to extremes, and I’m not saying that’s a good or a healthy thing. She was lucky to have people in her life who were able to get her to open up and overcome her fears. But these are not weird and unrealistic quirks of a fictional character. These are real things, I have felt these things myself, and it’s not something to scoff at. We all have things we fear. And the fact that I related so strongly to Cath’s fears is what made me connect so strongly with her.
So, what am I trying to say…? Actually, I think I want to thank Rainbow Rowell for portraying a character like Cath – not as some quirky, geeky minor character. Her anxieties weren’t made into small issues to be laughed at as she grew out of them – she was given the respect of a real person with real fears and real potential and real talent. And that meant a lot to me.
“Okay, okay, we get it – you related to Cath, you loved her, fine! Why else should we read Fangirl?!” Well, all personally-relatable elements aside, there was so much more to love about this book. Cath’s college experience was so realistic – I’ve read a few books where the MC’s were in college, but this one blew them out of the water when it came to actually representing what college is actually like (at least from my own experience… obviously). And if you are a fan of slow-burn relationships, and a romance that doesn’t overtake the plot (or the characters’ own individual development), you need to read this book. (I will not say the love-interest’s name because spoilers, but OH MAN he is amazing.)
I will say this: I think this book will appeal to a very specific audience (fangirls, that’s you). If you can’t relate to Cath at all, then Fangirl might not be your thing. But don’t take my word for it. I’m obviously writing this from the point of extreme relating-to-Cath, so actually you should probably just go read this book and make your mind up for yourself. For me, this book was basically perfect.