Cath and her twin sister Wren are embarking on their first year of college. While Wren is taking the campus by storm, Cath is left behind struggling to deal with the unfamiliarity of a new environment and her often crippling fear of socializing with strangers. In real life, that is. In the world of facfiction, Cath is a star. She is incredibly popular for writing stories in which two of the literary world's most beloved characters are actually in love with one another. Along with the pressures of surviving her first year of classes and finishing her own "Simon and Baz" story before the author finishes the series and puts them to rest, Cath faces family troubles, boy troubles and her own internal debate about what she wants in life, and what she can actually have.
I loved Cath from the minute I saw the cover of Fangirl. The character inside the pages does not disappoint either. She is fun, sweet and quirky. Just weird enough to be interesting. Her whole experience the first few weeks dealing with living with strangers and not knowing where anything is or how it works reminded me why I NEVER wanted to live in dorm. It is incredibly easy to feel and empathize with Cath's anxiety at being in a new place and dealing with new people. Cath also gets to have this experience while watching her twin sister appear to thrive in their new environment in a way Cath could never even dream of. But don't get me wrong, this is not your typical "girl learns to stand on her own two feet" story. Cath is also dealing with the fact that her mother abandoned the girls when they were children and their father who has issues of his own.
On top of her familial and scholarly obligations. Cath is dedicated to her fans, of which she has A LOT. She is huge in the fanfiction community with her stories about the Simon Snow Series. The fictional set of books is about a boy who finds out he is a wizard, attends a magical school and makes an enemy in the form of his roommate, Baz. The story pretty closely mirrors that of Harry Potter, but Cath turns it on its head by making the two enemies into love interests. Her dedication to the characters is something to which I am sure any reader can relate and her compulsive need to finish her take on the series before the final book is released adds a sense of urgency. It also, compels the teacher in me to scream in frustration at Cath for neglecting her ACTUAL schoolwork for her personal project. But, I loved her enough to forgive her .... eventually. The story of Fangirl is also sprinkled with excerpts from both the official Simon Snow books and Cath's fanfiction, Carry On. These breaks aid the pacing and give interesting insight into the world that Cath has made her own.
Rainbow Rowell really knows her characters. Cath is not the only one that I loved. Regan and Levi are both awesome in the own right. Regan got some of the best lines and Levi was just so dang loveable that no one could resist his charm. I also really liked being able to see the dicotomy between Cath and Wren. So often, twins are written as complete opposites: one shy, one outgoing, one nerdy, one popular - to the point where it becomes cliche. But here we have a much more realistic portrayal. The girls have clear differences, but they have a lot in common as well. They compete with one another, but they also complement. The love interest was also adorable and so genuine. It really showcased Cath's insecurities about herself, her experience level and being the less popular twin. I also love that even though this book features college age characters, the sexual activity is kept to a minimum and doesn't overtake the story.
Having read Eleanor & Park and now Fangirl, I am officially signing on for anything and everything that Rainbow Rowell will write in the future!
Character-driven from the start, Fangirl is a niche coming-of-age contemporary story centered around the Freshman year of college for a semi-stereotypical geeky girl named Cather (Cath).
Cath is a mixed bag of anti-social neuroticism, insecurity, and self-loathing. She's glaringly unenthusiastic about moving away from home and into a dorm—not to mention procuring a roommate who, for the first time in her life, is NOT her sister. Resistant to change, socially handicapped, and disinterested in anyone who isn't her family, she clings desperately to the escapist coping mechanism she's grown to rely on: obsessing over her favorite middle-grade book series and writing slash fanfiction.
Needless to say...Cath presents with considerable room for personal growth. Fortunately for those concerned with compelling characterization, there is a sympathy-inducing reason for the condition we find her in.
It takes a number of chapters in to reveal the root cause, but readers eventually come to realize that Cath and her identical twin sister, Ren, have been shaped (and emotionally stunted) by severe maternal abandonment issues. Cath's own assessment of this feels most apt and accurate: Ren started acting out, while Cath acted in. The two are a sort of equal-yet-opposite dichotomy of dysfunction. Cath attempts to root the bulk of her identity in her re-writing of fictional characters she's “borrowed” from a famous author. Ren, on the other hand, dives headlong into the party scene and discards Cath almost completely.
Left to her own devices, Cath is more or less taken under the pitying wing of her otherwise prickly roommate, Ragan—and by extension, Ragan's country-boy pseudo-boyfriend, Levi. Cath proceeds into the realities of new-adulthood, all but literally kicking and screaming the whole way.
Unfortunately, the only character this reader was able to form any fondness for was Levi. I love to see an unconventional male protagonist, and Levi fits the unusual bill. He's the positive charge to Cath (and everyone else's) negativity and the kind, refreshing counterbalance to the story's abundance of narcissism. The fact that he's “not much of a reader” makes him all the more charming juxtaposed to Cath's exceedingly narrow literary fixation.
The prose is workable—with a fairly even number of awkward similes to poignant ones. The pacing moves along well for the first 40% or so, but then seems to lag—with no obvious external conflicts to propel the plot onward. Once our heroine (and I use the term loosely) gets her guy, readers may be left wondering what overall goal remains to look forward to. For those hoping for an impactful wrap-up, this book's ending may prove more forgettable than anything.
As for the plotline, I appreciated the complexity of the author's stories-within-a-story approach. Truly! It was gutsy, ambitious, and different. (And this reader is no stranger to the concept of a “fandom” nor to the pastime of fanfiction writing/reading.) But in the end...I'm not entirely sure how well it served the primary story.
Initially I thought the Simon Snow (i.e. shameless discount Harry Potter) excerpts and fanfic segments were intended to somehow parallel the “real-life” story Cather was living out. But there didn't seem to be much for true connectivity, and so the resulting sense was a bit scattered—wrenching me out of the primary storyline at the end of most chapters.
Alas, not one this reader particularly enjoyed. But Rowell writes such drastically different kinds of stories, I'm not dissuaded from giving another of her works a try.
What I liked: Cath is one of the most realistic and lovable characters I have read recently. Her anxiety and nerves about college and real life is just so real. I totally got her-I was her my freshman year in college, minus writing fan-fiction, having a twin sister and in general being much cooler and funnier than me. You can't help but love Cath and all she brings to the table in this book.
I also really liked Cath's roomate, Reagan. She's hardcore and the perfect roommate for Cath. Imagine if Cath and Wren would have been roommates...how different might this story have been.
What left me wanting more: I could have stayed in Cath's world the whole time. I understand the importance of the fan-fiction aspect to the development of the story but Cath's real-life journey was my favorite. I don't want to discredit the fan fiction aspect of this though because it does play such an important part. I just want to read more Cath!
Final verdict: The romance is sweet and the characters are as true to life as you can find. I highly recommend this book.
Can I just say "everything" and get away with it? Because really, I loved this book to pieces. This is the first time I've ever met a heroine who reminded me so much of myself. Cath is a distinctive heroine who will either resonate with readers or confuse them. She's an introvert, a misanthrope, and fiercely loyal to the few she allows into her life. She's also a fangirl of Simon Snow (the equivalent of Harry Potter) and writes extremely popular fanfic. Cath's character arc is well-developed, she grows both as a person and as a writer, and being inside her head was like finding a voice for myself.
The romance is sweet and slow and lovely. Fans of Anna and the French Kiss will adore this romance. The other relationships are all nuanced and complex, and every piece of it resonated with authenticity. Even the relationships in Cath's fanfiction resonated with authenticity, which is part of what reveals the kind of incisive, observant romantic Cath really is beneath her anxiety and her introversion.
The writing is lovely. The author notices small details about her characters and approaches her romance scenes with a deft, insightful touch that will delight readers who love to feel fully connected to the characters and their relationship.
What Left Me Wanting More:
I would have loved to see how Cath resolved her piece of fanfic, but as the *not* resolving it was actually part of her own character growth, I can accept that it was left out of the book.
Quirky, sweet, and heartbreakingly insightful, this is one book that deserves the hype.
What I Liked: Heartwarming, engaging and humorous look at one girl's journey to find out who she is when she steps away from her computer and into real life. FANGIRL has a witty MC and colorful cast of supporting characters, several of whom aren't even real. ;)
Cath is a bit neurotic and faces all kind of challenges like, meeting new people, figuring out where the dining hall is and how to live apart from her sister for the first time, ever. But she also learns how to better her craft, develops her own friends (apart from Wren), falls in love and discovers a strength she didn't even know she had.
I LOVED the humor and I appreciated the sweet fragility of the romance. And can I just say that the kissing scenes in this book are some of the BEST I have ever read? Because they totally are! *fans face*
What Left Me Wanting More: I wanted to meet Levi's Mom. :)
Final Verdict: The kissing scenes alone make this book worth the read!
Favorite Quote(s): "I'm the cool one," she told herself. "Somebody give me some tequila because I'll totally drink it. And there's no way you're going to find me later having a panic attack in your parents' bathroom. Who want to French-kiss?"
"Head, heart, hands, health. They don't have 4-H in South Omaha?"
"They do, but it stands for hard, hip-hop, and Homey-don't-play-that."
"Stop," Reagan groaned, "don't make me look at you. It's like THE SHINING in here."
What I Loved:
There are some authors who write in such a way that I'm mentally swept off my feet, in love from the first words. Rainbow Rowell officially joins this short list, now that I've loved both of her books that I've read. Her books speak to me in a way that very few do, to a degree it's a rare to find. Rowell's books make me feel a little bit less alone, a little bit more understand, and point out truths I've often thought or even discussed with friends but not seen in fiction. I can tell you right now that I will be sitting on Attachments (not literally) for as long as I can hold out, because then I know that there won't be ANY MORE Rowell for who knows how long. That's how much I love her writing.
Fangirl took me about half a month to read, which, if you know how much I read, is sort of insane, especially for a book I love so much. However, I was determined to read this sooner, but my review schedule is not forgiving of dalliances with books not on the schedule, so I read a chapter here and a chapter there as I was able. This can be a bit of an onus for a book to bear, though, because it gives me time to forget everything, and can make connection emotionally more difficult since you're not as thoroughly immersed. With Fangirl, though, the moment I started reading, even if it had been days since I got to read any, I was immediately back in Cath's world. Within a paragraph or two, the world around me dissipated and I was completely absorbed and dialed in.
Because this is such a highly anticipated title, a lot of bloggers have been getting early starts. Thus, though I avoid actual reviews until I've read the book, I've seen some tweets and statuses. Though Fangirl is nigh perfection for me, personally, I know other sorts of readers (as in those that do not have a brain that functions like mine) have had trouble relating to Cath. Certainly, Cath is a very different sort of heroine from the norm. She's introverted to the point of being almost a hermit, preferring to live her life almost entirely in a fictional world. Social anxiety plague her to the degree that she actively avoids making friends and refuses to go to the dining hall because she's afraid of embarrassing her self by doing something wrong. When things get heavy, Cath will just shut down and make really bad choices, like not turning in a final project because she couldn't figure out what to do. Cath is also angry, at her mom, at Wren, and at herself. I can definitely see where her decisions wouldn't register with more socially competent readers.
While I am not precisely like Cath, I'm close enough that I get her. I could have been very much like her, minus the fan fiction stardom. See, in some ways, Cath's downfall was her happy high school experience: built-in best friend in her twin sister Wren, popularity that comes with hanging out with Wren, and comfortable boyfriend Abel. On arriving at the University of Nebraska for her freshman year of college, Wren's safe, familiar little world falls apart. Wren, who refused to room with Cath, wants little to nothing to do with her twin sister, desperate to forge her own identity. Abel dumps her for a girl who a) actually likes him in a romantic way and b) got a higher score on the ACT. Her grumpy roommate Reagan, with omnipresent boyfriend Levi, stress her out further. Wren parties for all she's worth to make new friends; Cath avoids people more than ever. With Cath's personality, suddenly losing your safety net in a new experience like this would result in such a response in a lot of cases. For me, I was so unhappy and friendless for most of high school that I started college fired with determination to become an extrovert; it didn't work, but it did get me through the first weeks.
What Cath fears more than anything is being bad at something, and here is where I understand this girl so much it hurts. She resists new experiences because she doesn't want to make a fool out of herself. This is behind her trepidation to go eat in the dining hall, where she could go the wrong way in line or sit at the wrong table. This is also why she just doesn't do her final fiction writing project: she fears she doesn't have the talent to write her own world, and prefers the safety of her fan fiction. With romance, too, she goes very slow on the physical side of the relationship for fear of doing the wrong thing. With all of these, the more time that passes, the more difficult that goal becomes to accomplish.
The romance is important, and I'll talk about that later, but I love that falling in love isn't the only thing to help bring her out of her shell. Forging a relationship with her roommate, Reagan, is her first true step out of her comfort zone. Sick of watching Cath subsist on protein bars, Reagan forces her to go to the dining hall, and this becomes a routine. There, they bond by people-watching other students, making up ridiculous stories about them. Though Reagan and Cath have little in common, they're able to find ways to connect, and, if Cath can handle the intimidating Reagan, that's a big step. Plus, bonding through stories and jokes like this is exactly what Cath does with her family; the way to get through Cath's heart is through fiction of one kind or another.
Family issues are key here, too, though they are not tied up in a tidy little bow. Cath and Wren have a loving father, who's raised them as a single parent since their mom walked out when they were kids. Though their father, Art, takes good care of them, he has manic depression, and needs a lot of looking after himself, as he will not take his meds, since they interfere with his creativity, necessary to his job in advertising. Art always gave them pretty free rein, trusting them to be responsible and to keep him in check. The twins going to college changes the family dynamics, which is painful, but ultimately better for everyone. On top of that, their mother wants to talk to them, but Cath wants no part of the woman who abandoned her.
Then there's the romance, and, my goodness is it swoony. I won't tell you who the guy is, because it's better to let things evolve in front of your eyes. However, I will say that Rowell gets the speed of emotions just right in Fangirl, both friendship and relationships. Once something starts, it moves with the speed of a man-eating hare. Relationships of all sorts build so quickly in college. Since you're with everyone from morning until night, there's so much more time for feelings to build, because you're all crammed together in dorms. As a kid, you lack transportation or have a curfew in the summer, and other times half your day is school. As an adult, most of your time is spent at work, so there's less time for socialization. College is friendship in romance in hyperdrive.
The romance in Fangirl is a slow burn that comes almost out of nowhere oh so perfectly. Rowell hurt my heart a few times along the way, but she made it all work so well. In a lot of ways, this guy is not my ideal love interest, and I wouldn't want him for myself (several of his qualities are dealbreakers for me personally), but I love him SO HARD for Cath. Who knows if they'll last forever, but he's just what she needs right now.
What Left Me Wanting More:
Much as my heart wants to give Fangirl every single star in the heavens, there was one thing I didn't completely love. While I did love the fan fiction angle, I also found one element puzzling. Cath is writing an immensely popular slash fan fiction about Simon Snow, a wizard, and his nemesis, Baz. The Simon Snow series is an obvious stand-in for Harry Potter, which I'm totally cool with. What threw me for a real loop was a casual reference to HP within Fangirl. Why would both exist? This really does not make sense to me. If HP exists in this world, why draw up an imitation to reference? I suspect it has something to do with the amount of fan fiction included and copyright, but why not just leave HP out entirely? In this world, Simon Snow probably wouldn't be that popular if Harry already existed, because it had been done. If Simon came first, then what sort of commentary is that on Rowling? Logic fail aside, I also was not nearly engaged in Cath's fan fiction, so I was generally just waiting for those bits to be over. I do really like the role it played and her life, and the discussions of fan fiction versus original fiction, but the story itself was of somewhat limited interest.
The Final Verdict:
I will read absolutely anything Rainbow Rowell writes. Though I've only read two of her books, she's near the top of my favorite authors list. Fangirl has realistic characters and is jam-packed with feels. Also, if you've been searching for books authentically about what it feels like to be in college, you want this book. I recommend Fangirl as highly as I possibly can.