Books: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

I heard about this book a while back. (It was published in 2013.) Because I'm contrary by nature, I almost never read books people tell me I "must" read. At least not right away. It's why I didn't read the first Harry Potter book until 2001 or so. And why I didn't read this one until I found it cheap at Half-Price Books.

Fangirl is a pretty simple story. Cath is starting college, and her twin sister Wren (get it? Cath-Wren? Cathrine?) doesn't want to be her roommate. They've shared a room their whole lives and now Cath feels adrift in an unfamiliar world. So she clings to her fan fiction—stories she writes about her favorite literary hero (a magician named Simon Snow, very like Harry Potter). Cath writes slash about Simon and a vampire character named Baz, and apparently is a very popular fanfic author online. Which explains why Cath keeps retreating to that world rather than face her daily life of classes, boys, and a snarky roommate.

Since I was also a well-received fanfic author when I went to college, I really sympathized with Cath in a lot of ways. (Of course, I'm old enough that back then fanfic had to be submitted to zines; you couldn't just post it online and have people flock to you.) But I found a lot of her problems to be superficial, and I also found her a little too naive to believe.

Cases in point (spoilers, sweeties):

  • She didn't see that the guy in her fiction writing class was using her. And then she let him use her.
  • She apparently didn't understand that you can't turn fan fiction in as your writing assignment?
  • As a shut-in (or nearly), she still manages to captivate a cute, too-perfect boy who hangs around her dorm room in the hopes that she'll notice him. Um... No. Boys don't just turn up at your door. If you want a relationship, you have to work for it.
  • Family drama: an alcoholic twin, a dad with mental illness issues, a deadbeat mom who tries to re-insert herself in their lives . . . And yet these all felt somewhat glossed over.
  • A writing teacher who see the spark in her and pursues her because she just knows Cath is destined to be a great writer. Gag me. Cath, who isn't even trying, somehow wins a major writing prize. Again, no. I worked for our college lit mag, and I've worked in publishing, and... Just no. (Especially based on the writing samples in the novel.)

Things I did like:

  • The interstitial bits of actual Simon Snow text versus Cath's fan fiction. (Of course, there is no "actual" Simon Snow text since Simon Snow books aren't a real thing, but it was a cute idea. Maybe too cute? Too gimmicky? I still enjoyed it.)
  • The snarky roommate.
  • The dad.
  • The boyfriend, even though he was too perfect to be believed and they never fought? 😁 (I feel like that one could also go against this book.)

Seriously, though, a lot of the plot lines were so suddenly sewn up without being satisfying. And some felt left open. I guess the mom just disappeared down whatever hole she'd crawled out of. So... Okay.

All this makes it sounds like a dud of a book, but I still gave it four stars on Goodreads. Because I did enjoy it overall. Since the conflicts were superficial and/or not plunged into with any depth (alcoholism and mental illness are heavy stuff, but not here!), Fangirl is a fast read. So it's got that going for it. If you want a book you can skate through relatively easily, this one will do.

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