Book Review: FANGIRL, by Rainbow Rowell

I was totally going to do this as a Waiting on Wednesday, because the book’s not out yet, but if I wait until next week I might forget (again), so HERE WE ARE.

You may have heard of a book that’s currently burning through the bookstore shelves called ELANOR & PARK? The CEO of my company was on Canada AM talking about it just this morning. I haven’t read it yet (OMG, SO MANY BOOKS), because I am trying to write PRAIRIE FIRE, but last week I saw the ARC of FANGIRL, Rowell’s forthcoming title, on the shelf and just could. not. resist.


You can’t see it on this version, but the one I had was subtitled The “Story” Of My Life, which is about 18 kinds of perfect for reasons that are [redacted for spoilers]

I found out about this book because I follow gingerhaze, who did the wonderful cover art, both on twitter and tumblr. I think it’s actually kind of fitting, because where better to find a book called FANGIRL than on a blog I started watching because of Broship of the Rings?

(This review, by the way, is probably going to be something of a Word Journey, because I’m not sure I can talk about it without talking about my own experiences in fandom. Which might be the point?)

Anyhoodle, FANGIRL is the story of Cath, aka magicath, who found the Simon Snow novels as a kid with her twin sister, and has never looked back.

The two of them did it all: fanfic, conventions, costumes for the movie premieres. Except now it’s time for college, and while Wren (Wrenagade) has mostly grown away from fandom, Cath is still holding on.

With the eighth (and final) Simon Snow book due out around finals, Cath has to balance her life in fandom with a surly roommate and her 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?

I think I am going to have to review this on two levels, one as a writer-of-fanfic, and again as a reader-who-is-a-writer-of-fanfic. So…technically and emotionally, if you will.

I fell in love with FANGIRL pretty much as soon as I opened it and read the fake wikipedia entry for the Simon Snow books. And then it GOT EVEN BETTER, because the book was broken into chapters by excerpts from the novels themselves, as well as scholarly articles and Cath’s own fanfiction. Basically, it was nerd heaven, for me. And as if that wasn’t good enough, Cath’s fanfic shows IMPROVEMENT. Her early stuff is, well, like MY early stuff, and then she gets really good! And when she co-writes with Wren, her style is different. What I am saying, basically, is that Rowell’s attention to detail is beyond perfect.

There were also a lot of hilarious touches that I could relate to. Like struggling with kissing scenes when you write “in public”, and desperately trying to finish a story before the canon comes out and steps on all your dreams and plans, and the pitfalls and high points that come with being a BNF*.

Which leads me to my emotions. Because, lordy, did I have emotions.

So, so often in the “real world”, I am made to feel like less of a person for being a fan. Like it’s a waste of my time and talent. Like I should do “real” writing. Like I should grow up. Cath faces a lot of that, but rather than let it overwhelm her, she lets it help shape the kind of grown-up she wants to be. Her writing prof, who is basically doing that thing where she’s writing fanfiction without realizing that she is writing fanfiction, is both Cath’s biggest block and her biggest encouragement. It’s a position I could identify with all too well.

Cath also has a really, really fantastic supporting cast. I think Reagan (the surly roommate), might be my second favourite character in the whole book. Except for the surly part, she is exactly the kind of roommate I needed (and eventually got) in university. Wren is just a beautiful disaster. And Levi…

Levi should have his own paragraph, really. Except that everything I want to tell you about him is a spoiler. So just take these lines and hold them until the book comes out.

FANGIRL is exactly the kind of book I never, ever dreamed would get written. It takes a topic that’s almost trendy, but not very well understood, and it doesn’t even attempt to explain it. It’s strongest moments are some of the most difficult to describe. It made me laugh a lot, and then at the end I cried because Simon Snow was over, and I remember what that felt like. And then, just to really drive the point home, the book ended with one of the best examples of how to say “I love you” that I have ever come across in my entire life.

This isn’t the kind of book you have your mother read so that she can understand why you need to stay up until 3AM writing stories about characters who have three seconds of screentime together** having a complicated off-screen relationship. This is the kind of book you give to the other fans in your life. It’s something else to hold tight and love, and never apologize for, because it’s freaking beautiful. The writing, the story, the “story”, all of it.

Cath had the “story” of her life, and most of us have ours. FANGIRL is the story of how to make it all work together, and even more besides.

Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell will be released on September 10, 2013.




*Which, I hasten to say, I never was. I mean, I had followers and stuff, but nothing to Cath’s scale. Of course, I also don’t write about boys kissing (well, in popular fandoms, at least), so it’s to be expected.
**Or no screentime. Let’s be honest.

5 responses to “Book Review: FANGIRL, by Rainbow Rowell

  1. ELANOR & PARK is on my shelf waiting to be read because of all the awesome reviews I have seen of it, but before 2 months ago I had honestly never heard of RR – she sort of came into my world from left of field as it were. I keep seeing gushing ARC reviews of Fangirl, but they seem in parts to be written in a foreign language. I’ve never been a proper ‘fangirl’ so I’m hoping I can still connect with these characters as well as every other reader but I’m not 100% certain. 🙂

    • If it’s a foreign language, it’s mine and I love it all the more for that reason. One of the things I liked the MOST about this book was that it didn’t try to explain itself. It’s brave, because it’s something that some people won’t get (which is not necessarily a bad thing, I hasten to add! There are plenty of things that just don’t speak to me too!), and I was impressed with the execution. Do give it a shot, though. It is brilliant and, at its heart, a story about what it means to love. 🙂

  2. “It takes a topic that’s almost trendy, but not very well understood, and it doesn’t even attempt to explain it.”

    That is a glorious summary.

    A friend of mine emailed me a couple weeks ago about this book and said if I didn’t have it she was buying it for me on kindle b/c she thought it would help me with my latest novel (and she wanted to talk to somebody about the book).

    The funny thing is that I have dear friends who are immersed, fan-fic-writing fangirls, and I’m this one step removed, watching them, and come to find out my almost-fan-fic is really a fan fic. It’s about fans, so I read this on the once-removed level, and it still worked.

    Definitely share the endorsement.

    (Also, it was cool to hear about the attention to detail– I didn’t recognize it from my once-removed position, and it makes me like it better. It adds meaning to those inserts.)

    Thanks for writing about this.

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