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? Writing her own stories?
And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?*
I thought this book would take me at least three days to read, but I flew through it in two. If it weren’t for the need to sleep, eat, and bathe I probably would have finished it in one. It’s that good.
The first thing I noticed about the book is how realistic it is. Reading about Cath’s feelings during her first few months away at school brought me right back to my freshmen year of college: All social anxiety, finding a routine, and figuring out just how to deal with cute, charming boys and the drama that comes along with them. The entire time I was reading, it felt like I was in Cath’s dorm, in her house, wandering the streets of Lincoln. Her and Levi were so fleshed out, so human, that even now it feels like I could go to Pound Hall, room 913 and chat with them about the latest installment in Carry On, Simon. Hemingway once wrote: “When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.” Rowell accomplished that with Cath and Levi.
Everything about the relationships was real as well. Things progressed in a way that was natural for the characters’ personalities; no shortcuts were taken and, while it was a little frustrating at times, it was perfect storytelling. I had to wait for things to happen, just as we have to wait in real life for things to happen. I kept wishing that Cath would say or do things that she desperately wanted to and I had accept when she didn’t do them. How often have I done that in my own life? I almost never say and do what I wish that I would, so it only made sense for Cath to do the same. It was almost refreshing to read a novel so grounded in reality.
In addition to being so dreamy and sweet (seriously, where was a guy like Levi when I was in college??), I love some of Levi’s idiosyncrasies. He shows that there are different types of intelligence, that there is no one true way to measure how smart someone is. I honestly found myself cringing at some of the typos in his texts, but as Rowell points out in a Q&A at the back of the book, it is the ideas that matter, not the grammar used in expressing them. I love that; it’s really made me rethink the war on grammar I see on just about every page of the Internet and the mental corrections I automatically make to peoples’ writing in my head.
There are so many things I want to say about this book, about how amazing it is and how I already want to reread it, but I’ll try to sum it up. Overall, this is a really touching story about family, mental illness, relationships, and what it’s like to be thrust out into the real world on your own for the first time. It’s got romance, school, hospital visits, dorm life, writing, fandom…everything you could possibly ask for in a YA book is there and it’s executed brilliantly. These are characters that I know will stick with me for a long time.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some FANGIRL fan art to print and hang on my wall….I love the “emergency dance party” print in the back of the edition I have!
*The synopsis and cover image are from Amazon.com.