Published by St. Martin's Griffin on September 10th 2013
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
A coming-of-age tale of fanfiction, family and first love
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 fanfiction, 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 that 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 fanfiction 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?
Yep, I’m fangirling hardcore. Contemporary can be considered foreign waters for me, but Fangirl charmed me with a sympathetic narrator, sibling struggles, mental health issues, and how to find your place in a new environment. This was my first Rowell book but it certainly won’t have been the last.
This coming-of-age story rises and falls with the adorable, quirky main character. I knew from the first page that I was going to enjoy Cath as a narrator. Cath has hidden behind her sister and her fandom for years, but with the start of college, her world is turned upside down. Her relationship with her sister Wren is very symbiotic, as in they do absolutely everything together. It’s not surprising, given they’re identical twins, but as the story shows later on, the sisters being glued to each other wasn’t very healthy for their personal development, especially Cath’s. Having probably realized this, Wren suggests they get separate rooms at college, which freaks Cath out. She’s a loner, and all she wants to to is read, write her fanfiction, and share her enthusiasm for Simon Snow all day. Wren, on the other hand, is very outgoing and sociable, wants to meet new people and enjoy the party life college has to offer. This causes the former inseparable sisters to drift apart, which turns out ot be troublesome for the sisterhood but benefitting Cath greatly. For the first time in Cath’s life, she’s forced to pave her own path and march on without Wren at her side.
In new situations, all the trickiest rules are the ones nobody bothers to explain to you. (And the ones you can’t Google.)
Cath is an overall great character to root for. She’s witty and loyal to her sister, she takes care of her troubled dad, and she’s very talented at writing. Cath does, however, have issues. Apart from clinging to her sister, she struggles immensely with change. She doesn’t want to move out, she doesn’t want to share a room with anyone other than her sister, and she doesn’t want to meet new people. Although, to my knowledge, never openly stated, Cath suffers from social anxiety. Her meals consist of granola bars the first few weeks at college because she doesn’t want to eat in the cafeteria with lots of strangers. The cafeteria is, in her imagination, a place of personal horrors, as so many things could go wrong (like where it actually is, where to queue, what to eat, where to sit, etc.). She also hasn’t quite dealt with her mother leaving them at 8 years old and how their father has been struggling ever since.
It becomes clear that her way of coping is to write. She makes up stories to not have to deal with the real world. She disappears behind words and flees into her own imagination.
“Why do we write fiction?” Professor Piper asked.
Cath looked down at her notebook.
The person that finally gets Cath go crawl out of her shell is Reagan, her roommate. Reagan is a kick-ass protagonist. She’s snarky, intimidating, and wild. She has that typical I-don-t-give-a-fuck attitude to her. She doesn’t close doors, she slams them shut. Her interactions with Cath are wonderful to watch, as they come from such different ends of the universe and then commence an unlikely friendship.
”I feel sorry for you, and I’m going to be your friend.”
“I don’t want to be your friend,” Cath said as sternly as she could. “I like that we’re not friends.”
“Me, too,” Reagan said. “I’m sorry you ruined it by being so pathetic.”
Also, there’s the love interest, and he had me from the start. I’m not going to spoil because it’s not crystal clear from the beginning who it is (although you will figure it out pretty soon). Cath’s relationship starts out as a tentative friendship and quickly grows into a mutual crush, which is the first time in her life where Cath becomes obsessed with someone other than fictional Simon Snow. I love those two lovebirds together. They spill cuteness all over the place.
Fangirl has amazing character development to show for, and it’s one of the key elements I need to find in every book if I’m going to enjoy it. Cath transforms from a socially awkward, dependent and mousy character to a person who figures out life on her own. I also love how, though Wren seems to have it all figured out, her sister struggles just as much internally as Cath does. Some people act in, others act out. This book had a vital message for interacting with people who wear smiles on their faces every day: Just because people act like they’re fine, doesn’t mean they are. The ending also doesn’t tie everything up in a neat knot. It’s a pretty good ending but RR indicates that Cath’s journey of self-discovery has not ended there.
While I enjoyed the characters and their journeys, the parts containing Cath’s fanfiction irked me. I wanted to focus on Cath, and was therefore just utterly disinterested in Simon Snow. This is also the reason I wasn’t going to pick up Carry On, the book that dives into the world Cath is so obsessed with (if you’re interested, read Chantal’s review on Carry On).
Honestly, I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a YA contemporary so much since Melina Marchetta’s Saving Francesca. Fangirl is a cute and funny read, yet portraying serious issues and relatable struggles. This coming-of-age tale about independence, family ties, friendship, and first love is narrated by a lovely female lead who will win your sympathy in a heartbeat. In many ways, this was the perfect book to read before the start of a new term at university.