Saturday, 24 May 2014

REVIEW Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell // HarpyReads

Since finishing my exams I've been trying to cleanse my reading palette, so to speak. I had a little binge of classic children's literature (Pollyanna, anyone?) to ease myself back into the habit of reading without analysing every other sentence. There's only so much overtly racist and sexist society I can stand though, so I started looking through my shelves to find something a little more modern.

Fangirl was published way back when last year (hey, in Internet terms a year is basically a century) it was a book I consciously avoided because it was being recommended by people who loved John Green's novel The Fault In Our Stars for people who loved TFIOS. I wasn't one of them, I've read a few of John Green's books now and while I didn't think they were bad I don't quite get what all the fuss is about either. I much prefer his YouTube videos. So to hear that Rainbow Rowell (real name, how cool must her parents be?) had a similar style didn't encourage me to rush out and read it.

Good lord, have I been missing out.

I read the entire book in one sitting, admittedly I was trapped in a hospital waiting room for four hours, but it was so good I had to start deliberately pacing myself when I realised I only had fifty pages left because I didn't want it to end. It's still a YA book, it's not going to be nominated for the Man Booker Prize any time soon but it's light and witty and full of teenage quips.

Fangirl is about Cath, an identical twin, starting college with her sister and it follows the well worn road of coming of age stories. Cath's sister doesn't want to share a room in the dorms, so Cath's low level social anxiety goes full blown. She leaves her dorm room for class and to meet up with her sister and that's about it, she survives off jars of peanut butter and protein bars. Fortunately, bitchy roommate with an oppressively cute best/boy friend comes to the rescue. We learn more about their family history, what makes them tick, what makes them snap. There's half a hint of a love triangle that quickly goes away, and it isn't cliched in it's inclusion: it really does force the story to look more closely at the relationships between the characters and accept the complexities of any relationship, romantic or otherwise.
How cute are the little illustrations inside the cover?

The characters are complicated, their relationships with each other are complicated, this is not a single issue novel that picks what it's going to be about and everything else is padding. Cath is a fangirl, not a screaming 12 year old fangirl, an established member of the fandom of Simon Snow (a series of eight books that are basically the Harry Potter of Rowell's universe) Cath writes Snow fanfics and she's very good at it, we're told, we even get to read some of her work. In some books this might have annoyed me, but since so much of this novel is devoted to exploring what makes someone a creator and the nuances of homage vs plagiarism, it works here. I can definitely see why some people don't like it, and the extracts of the invented Simon Snow books, as well as the extracts of Cath's fanfics, are not terribly good. They're cutesy and amusing, but verge towards the ridiculous (Insidious Humdrum, seriously?) Cath, in true fangirl style, is of course devoted to writing non-erotic slash of the two main characters. This is I think the first novel I've ever read that captures the sense of how young people interact online and use websites like tumblr. Rowell examines why people write and read fanfiction, it's an interesting examination and I think she handles it sympathetically, she's certainly unjudgemental.

This novel felt very human, there's a lot going on in Cath's life and the focus meanders but that's what happens as we grow up. We lose focus when we get to university, or leave school, or just generally when we have any kind of major life upheaval. Sometimes we change and let things go, sometimes we become better at distilling what we want to do and learn to balance our time.

Things I really liked:
  • Levi has an undiagnosed non-specific learning difficulty. It's not a big deal, it takes a while before Cath picks up on it, he's a smart kid and he's found ways around it and designed his own coping mechanisms. To me, a super dyslexic type with lots of bits of paperwork categorised exactly how my brain is broken, I enjoyed how casually this was included.
  • Reagan the bitchy roommate, she's a bitch but still we love her. Her sarcasm filter is highly developed and the fact she spends her dinner hour mercilessly mocking all in sight does not change the fact she cares about people. Also the line "I'm a pretty good friend, but I'm a shitty girlfriend" because, yes it is possible to be both those things simultaneously. 
  • The twins' relationship with their father, particularly how both of them have a well developed and different relationship with him.
You can buy Fangirl HERE

Follow on Bloglovin


  1. I read Fangirl about a month ago and loved it too. I have no problem reading mostly YA fiction (despite being well beyond YA age by now...) - especially novels as moreish as this one. If you haven't read Eleanor & Park I'd recommend it (although I preferred Fangirl for the overall feelgood factor) xxx

    1. I've read quite a few YA books that would have held absolutely no interest to me when I was in the targeted age bracket but that I ended up enjoying now I'm older. If I see Eleanor & Park I'll be picking it up.

  2. I absolutely loved this book. John Green is one of my favourite authors. Not because I think his books are the best but because I like his YouTube videos and how much work he does to promote being a nerd!
    Water Painted Dreams xo

  3. This sounds really interesting - I might have to pick up a copy! :)