Sunday, August 16, 2015
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Published September 2013 by St. Martin's Press
Source: bought this one at HalfPrice Books
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?
Y'all know how much I love Rainbow Rowell, right? I've had this one for a while but have been saving it, knowing that she didn't have another book coming out for a while.
When I listened to Rowell speak last August, she said this was the book she was most proud of, the book she feels is her best. She feels it is her most complex and I would have to agree with her. In it, she's had to create a fantasy fiction series (think "Harry Potter"), fan fiction based on that series and a story about a girl who writes that fan fiction (hence, the title).
This may be Rowell's favorite of her books; it wasn't mine. Perhaps if I were a fan of the kind of fiction this book is centered around, I would have enjoyed it more, the "quotes" from the original material, the passages of fanfic Cath wrote. For me, there was just too much of all of that. I would far have preferred that the story stay focused on Cath - her relationship with Wren and her father and her adjustment to college. Because when Rowell is focused there, the story is strong.
Cath is a girl who is both young for her age and wise beyond her years. She and Wren have had to survive the pain of having their mother leave them when they were very young and the reality of living with a father who suffers from bipolar disorder. But without Wren, Cath might fold entirely into herself. So when Wren decides it's time for her to become her own person, Cath is left feeling betrayed and alone. Anyone who's ever been off to college, away from their parents for the first time, knows how adrift you can feel...and how free you can feel. For Cath, then loneliness is almost more than she can bear. For Wren, the freedom is almost more than she can handle.
As always, Rowell's strength is in her dialogue and the interactions between her characters. When Rowell veers away from that, when she introduces long passages of Cath's writing, I lost my focus. That's not to say that some of that wasn't an integral part of the story - it was, after all, a key bond between Wren and Cath and the way by which Cath first attracts the boy. Less of it would have worked fine, I think. I found myself completely skipping over these parts and losing out on some of what Rowell was saying about relationships. Also? The ending does not work when you haven't paid attention to Cath's writing up to that point.
Fans of the fanfic piece of this novel, will be happy to know that Rowell's latest novel is actually the novel that Cath was writing in this one. As for me, I'll be waiting for Rowell to return to reality. Although with a couple of graphic novels on her horizon as well, I don't think she'll be returning there any time soon.