Book Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Posted October 18, 2013 by Kara in book review, Kara / 25 Comments

Book Review: Fangirl by Rainbow RowellFangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Published by St. Martin's Press on September 10th, 2013
Genres: contemporary, young adult
Pages: 448
Format: ARC
Source: BEA
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four-stars

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? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind? A New York Times Book Review Notable Children's Book of 2013

Fangirl and I did not get off to a great start. Our relationship was rocky. I was worried we weren’t going to mesh well. I didn’t like the characters, particularly Cath. She made me all

 

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And it was rough because I felt REALLY bad for not liking her because we had so many things in common. She’s a huge reader–HUGE. She has anxiety issues, she’s a bit agoraphobic, antisocial, and she doesn’t like going places that are out of her comfort zone. It was super easy to put myself in Cath’s shoes, and so not meshing with her personality was extremely difficult for me. I sort of felt like I was hating myself. But she was SOOOO negative. Nothing she ever said was positive or upbeat. It was as if she was content to go through life being miserable. And I’m not down with that.

Then there was Levi, who I loved. But because I didn’t like Cath and he was all, “Cath

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I was not amused. I liked him and thought he deserved way better. Not to mention, going into this book I thought it was going to be more than just college and fan fiction. But with the exception of Cath’s family issues, that’s all it was. For most people I think this topic is not an issue. But for me, partly because I never had the go away to college experience, I had a tough time relating to the dorm drama that Cath and Wren went through. Even though the book was written well, I did a lot of

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which I know is totally just a personal thing and life experiences often determine how we relate to a book. Cute kittens for the win! But then, somewhere around the halfway mark, I found myself liking it more. Perhaps it’s because I finally fell for Levi. Or maybe it was because I absolutely adored Reagan and Cath/Wren’s dad. Maybe I started to understand Cath more and why she was the way she was. Her mother messed her up. How our parents raise (or don’t raise us) are going to impact us for the rest of our lives. And this is another thing I can DEFINITELY relate to. Cath escaped into the Simon Snow fandom because that is where her comfort zone was. My blog and books are my comfort zone. As I got to know Cath and her reasons for living the way she was, I started to understand her more. I don’t think I will ever love the girl–or this book, for that matter–but I understand her/it and their reason for being. Does that make sense?

I feel like Rainbow Rowell wrote about anxiety and bipolar disorder in a very relatable and accurate way. I worry that someone who hasn’t dealt with mental health disorders is going to maybe have trouble, but maybe not. I was reading it through a different lens because I HAVE been touched by these issues. That said, I think the author wrote about topics that aren’t touched often in fiction, particularly YA fiction and I give her major accolades for that. I also thought the way she handled Cath and Levi’s developing romance was realistic and awkward in all its teenage shyness and I loved it. There were a few moments where it tipped the scale into corny territory but I loved it just the same.

As for the fan fiction aspects of the book?

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Brilliant. I can tell she did her research well, was a part of a fandom at some point, and probably left her mark there. I felt it in Cath’s emotions, in Wren’s love for her sister, and in some of the final scenes that I really freaking WISH I could talk about. I was never a huge part of any fandom, but I did read a lot of Twilight fanfic back in the day so I get it, and I do think she captured it well.

So in the end, while I don’t think Fangirl will ever be a favorite book of mine, I have to give the author major credit for her exceptional handling of some tough topics, her original characters, storyline, and lovely writing. The dialogue was seriously excellent. This was my first experience with a Rainbow Rowell book and it most certainly will not be my last.

kara

25 responses to “Book Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

  1. What a great review! It sounds like the perfect story for so many people in our generation (Harry Potter fans, anyone?) so it’s interesting to hear how that played out for you. It’s also nice to know that there are authors out there writing about anxiety and other mental health issues. Thanks for the excellent report!

  2. I actually fell in love from the start, but I completely understand what you’re saying. Sometimes it can hit or miss with the character and then it all has a domino effect. But YAY for you ending up liking it and connecting 🙂 Great review! And the animal gifs are a win.

  3. I purposely forced myself to finish Fangirl this morning so I could read your review. It’s funny, I liked the beginning much more than the latter half of the book. But part of the issue is that I’m so unlike Cath that I couldn’t relate at all, and by the end I was just bored. I also liked how she portrayed the mental health issues because they’re done accurately, but it’s not totally in your face either. There’s always a balance with how much you need to explain to readers so they understand, but also making it feel natural.

    • Isn’t that strange! I love the way she portrayed the mental health issues, particularly Cath’s anxiety. I found it so realistic and almost as if the author has experiences with it herself to get it so right. I wish you had continued to love it though. 🙁

  4. MJ

    I sort of had a love annoyance relationship with this one myself. The fandom stuff was so relatable and Levi was just awesome. But Cath really did push my buttons. I really wish that her anxiety issues were actually addressed, like the bipolar and alcohol issues were.

  5. I can absolutely see what you’re talking about in the first part, Kara. I was sort of that way about this one too. Levi…I didn’t really get what he saw in Cath at first, because she was so involved in her own headspace, so awkward, and frankly, unhappy. But then she started to evolve, and all at once I sorta GOT why Levi wanted her. Bless her heart, she so needed all those wake-up calls and life experiences to really start LIVING. I liked the second half better, and I also thought RR did an amazing job exploring fanfom, and bipolar disease. I can’t wait to read something else by her.

    Molli | Once Upon a Prologue

  6. I have to agree completely – I loved Levi, love the stance Rowell took on online communities, and really felt as if she represented Cath in such a believable light. I struggled while reading this, so it’s not my favorite Rowell novel, but I also really connected with it by the end. Great review, Kara!(:

  7. I totally agree with what you said! At first, I didn’t really relate to Cath because of her negativity, as my friends say, my soul is the colour of sunshine so I couldn’t really relate to Cath in that sense but I related to the issues she has with her twin sister (having a twin sister myself, I can totally relate) so I found myself liking her more and more. I also found the fanfic elements to be amazing and I’ve noticed that not a lot of bloggers mention that so I was so I was really glad when you brought it up too. Awesome review! 🙂

    • There seems to be so many different elements to this book that readers can relate to. I didn’t relate to the twin thing because I was an only child but I did to everything else so there seems to be something for everyone here. Very cool.

  8. I’m so torn, and based on what you have to say here I am leaning toward not reading this one. I just am not into the aspects that so many people like about it (I’m not shy, I never went off to college, I’m not in the world of fan fiction), although I’m glad that bipolar disorder and depression, which several people very close to me deal with, are handled well. I hate when authors screw that stuff up.

    Thanks for this review, Kara!

    • I hear you, Kate. And that is pretty much why I avoided Eleanor and Park. I just didn’t think I would be able to relate to the subject matter. I do think RR dealt with mental issues in a really respectful and realistic way here.

  9. I actually really enjoyed this book, which was a bit surprising to me as I just could not get into Eleanor and Park. I wanted to shake Cathy a bit–seriously go eat in the cafeteria–she didn’t bother me as much as she did you. I loved Levi and Reagan. I thought the family situation was done so well. The fanfic was so interesting. I’m not part of that world at all, but it seemed pretty realistic. Overall, I was pretty impressed with this one. I’m glad it grew on you after the rocky start. Great review!

    • I hear you. See, I understand exactly WHY she couldn’t eat in the cafeteria. As an anxiety sufferer, it has a lot to do with being unable to leave your comfort zone and overthinking and freaking out about everything, even if it is stupid.

      Regan and Levi were awesome. I agree!

  10. My first Rainbow Rowell book ended up being her only (currently) adult novel, Attachments, and I really loved it. I’m a bit leery at her YA novels seeing as they’re completely different (from Attachments) but I enjoyed her writing so much I’m going to have to give them a shot. Fangirl I think will definitely be my next of hers, so glad to see you ended up enjoying it! 🙂

  11. I’m not reading this book until I’ve read Eleanor & Park next month, but now I’m slightly worried about the main character! I can’t stand it when characters (or people) are constantly whining and miserable. Cheer the hell up! I’m not going to be able to get that Let Me Love You gif out of my head, so now when I read this Cath and Levi are gonna be a giraffe and an ostrich. Ha. I am looking forward to the fandom stuff though, since I’m involved with fandom myself (although I was in a lot deeper a few years ago compared to now), and I can’t wait to see how Rainbow Rowell plays it!

  12. But Cath is young! I was precisely that grumpy when I was in high school. When I started college, I went in optimistic, but her circumstances are different.

    Your favorite character is the dad? And your favorite part is the fan fiction? I…don’t know who you are right now. LOLs. Oh wow, a 4? This sounded like a grudging three. Funny how that happens.

    Well, I’ll just keep Cath and Levi for myself. :-p

    • I’m not saying that teens aren’t that grumpy, but I wasn’t at all so I couldn’t relate. Compared to her, I was the happiest person on the planet. For me, it’s just hard to relate to someone who is almost constantly negative.

      LOL well you know I am not a romance fan. And I thought the fan fiction part of the story was handled well and accurately. I thought the dad was just an adorable mess.

      I loved Levi but you can have Cath. 🙂

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