This book review is long overdue but I thought I should just get it out of the way. I bought Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell in Bombay as part of my book haul (do three books count as a haul?), and after a lot of people egged me on, I finally decided to give this a read.
I’d read Eleanor and Park by Rowell but that book really disappointed me. I didn’t like it; it was slow and boring, and the writing was heavy. But, Fangirl was a pleasant surprise. For the most part of the book, Fangirl was good; I liked the characters and the writing. The story was also really cute.
Warning: This review may contain spoilers, so please proceed at your own risk!
Cath and Wren are twins who used to do everything together, even write fanfiction about Simon Snow, but now that they’ve gone off to college, Wren wants the true college experience: college parties, getting drunk and hot college boyfriends. On the other hand, Cath wants to stay in her dorm and write fanfic all day without having to interact with anybody. In comes awkward but charming Levi, and Cath’s entire story is about to change.
(Was that an appropriate summary?)
First, let’s start with the story. I thought the whole premise of the book was adorable. The whole college-freshman-I’m-kind-of-terrified vibe spoke to me because I’ll be going to college this fall, and I’m scared out of my wits but still excited. I like how the whole book was centered around Cath’s love for fanfic and how it begins to affect other aspects of her life.
I’ve not read a book about fanfiction, nor have I actually read fanfiction, but I’ve always been intrigued by the whole concept and how as readers we kind of have the artistic licence to play around with an existing world and it’s characters, and how our own experiments (?) resonate with readers everywhere and that they may share the same feelings as us.
I particularly loved how Cath is able to use her fanfiction to come closer to people, but at the same time it also distances her from others. This is one aspect of the story that I really liked and it stuck with me even after I finished the book.
Moving on to the writing. First, the basics: it’s written from third person point of view, but mainly from Cath’s POV. (This is what my English teacher would call third-person omniscient narration.)
Second, the structure of the writing: most of the book is third-person but what Rowell does really well is interweave Cath’s fanfic, and actual Simon Snow chapters, in between chapters of the book. I honestly this was a really unique feature because it gave us an insight into what was such an integral part of Cath’s life but without giving away too much. I really enjoyed reading the Simon Snow fanfic and the actual Simon Snow content.
Lastly, let’s talk about the characters. First off, we have Cath. She is a geeky fangirl who prefers to sit in her dorm writing fanfic rather than go outside and socialize with people, which is what her sister, Wren, prefers to do.
At the beginning, she was really irritating because there were some instances, like how she starved herself because she didn’t know where the cafeteria was and was too afraid to ask, that were really hard to believe and it made it hard for me to relate to Cath. I understand that she has social anxiety (and I’m sorry if I offend anyone, that’s not my intention), but some of it seemed really hard to believe. But, this may be actually happening in real life so I don’t really know.
Rowell does a good job of her character transition. Cath quickly turns into a bit of a more sociable person, and as the book progressed, I found myself growing to like her. Barring the beginning, Cath is a very relatable character, and she represents any college freshman who is trying to adjust to the new lifestyle and find her place.
Through the little snippets of her fanfiction, we really get to know her and we also really understand why she’s so good at what she does and why she’s got millions of readers from all over the world who are dying to read the next chapter of her fanfic. The snippets of fanfic were a smart move by Rowell because it gives us insight into Cath without having to actually interact with her, so it made it feel like an actual fanfic-reading experience.
Next, we have Wren, Cath’s twin. She used to love writing Simon Snow fanfic, and she and Cath were a force to be reckoned with. However, after coming to college, she ditches the entire thing and indulges in the true college experience. I had really mixed feelings about her because it was refreshing to watch her go out and experience college, but at the same time, it was kind of heartbreaking to watch her ditch Cath and the Simon Snow fanfic, considering it used to be such a huge deal for her.
It was weird to watch how the fanfic actually began to distance Cath and Wren; while Cath still clung on, Wren claims to have grown up and let go and this put a huge gap between them, one that didn’t seem to exist back when they were in high school. This gap becomes really evident as the book progresses because we start to read about less of her but she pops up a lot in Cath’s flashbacks.
Wren’s alcohol poisoning was terrifying, and I think it was smart of Rowell to shed a little light on this and how it’s such a crucial topic to talk about especially when underage drinking is such a huge deal in colleges. But, as terrifying as it was, Rowell uses it to bring the sisters back together, which was absolutely heart-warming.
Next, we move onto Levi, the main love interest in this book. Straight off the bat, he is one of my fictional boyfriends (maybe I should do a fictional boyfriends post). He was adorable and charming, but awkward, all in a cute way. The way he and Cath bond over her fanfiction is adorable beyond compare and I was shipping them throughout the whole book. He’s a farm boy and is blonde, tall and lanky, who wins over Cath with his farm manners and complimentary Starbucks lattes. He studies Range Management at the Agriculture School, which Cath finds to be quite amusing.
He’s very supportive of Cath and her fanfic and is the first person to find out about it. She reads her fanfic aloud to him, and this is how they end up kissing the first time after they fall asleep with each other. As much as I found this very cute, I think Rowell spent too much writing space dedicated to the fanfic because there are huge chunks of just Simon Snow fanfic in the chapters that Cath is reading out. I wish Rowell had used the story space to develop Cath’s and Levi’s relationship more, or to give us more insight into Levi. I think Rowell overdid it considering we already read Simon Snow-related content in between chapters.
Next we have Reagan, Cath’s roommate, and Levi’s ex-girlfriend. She and Levi used to date in high school until Reagan cheated on him, but they’re still friends, so I guess it’s okay. Reagan is loud, rude, obnoxious and she’s always making fun of Cath, but that’s just her way of caring. A lot of reviewers said they didn’t like Reagan too much, but I really liked her, from the get-go, and honestly, she was always there for Cath and she took her under her wing, whether Cath liked it or not.
We also have Arthur, Cath’s and Wren’s dad. He’s a single dad who’s been raising Cath and Wren ever since his wife, and their mom, walked out on them on September 11, 2001. Laura’s abandonment has caused serious problems in the house; Arthur now has bipolar disorder and Cath has taken on the role of the matriarch of the house, which causes serious resentment in Cath who now won’t give her mother a chance. Arthur is close to both of his daughters, but more to Cath who takes care of him even when she’s in college by making sure he’s eating and sleeping. His mental breakdown causes him to be involuntarily admitted to a mental hospital, which affects Cath deeply and almost triggers her to drop out of school. I really liked Cath’s and Wren’s dad and I felt helpless for Cath when there was nothing she could do to help him.
Lastly, we have Nick Manter, who was a surprise character. We meet him in Cath’s advanced fiction writing class and they immediately pair up to be writing partners. It was a very cute friendship and Rowell writes him in such a way that you never actually see the plot twist coming (unless I was dumb and everybody saw it coming). Honestly, when I first read about Nick, he seemed like the male character that gets left behind by the protagonist. The guy who falls for the girl but she friendzones him and says she’s into somebody else and we readers are left crying because he was supposed to be her true love. However, I was pleasantly surprised when he turned out to be the opposite; he doesn’t like Cath but actually takes advantage of her writing skills and plagiarizes her entire story. I was actually quite pissed at him for being so disrespectful but I also liked how he was a twist in the story and not the quintessential boy accessory.
Overall, I really enjoyed the book; I thought it was cute and a quick read. I definitely would not have picked this book up on my own, but there’s been so much hype about it that I picked it up when I saw it. I liked the book but I don’t think it was as amazing as people said it was, but it was not as disappointing as Eleanor & Park.
My overall rating for this book would be 4.5/5 stars, and I definitely recommend it to all of you, especially if you’re into YA contemporary novels and are looking for a quick read.
I hope you guys liked my review and I hope it wasn’t too long. My non-spoiler reviews were short and superficial so I decided to spoiler-y reviews so that I could really get my thoughts and feelings down.
I will be back soon with another fun book-related post! Until then, I hope you have a great morning, afternoon or night wherever in the world you may be.