Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

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Five out of Five Stars

I can’t think of any words powerful enough to adequately express how much I loved Fangirl, but I’m going to spend the rest of this review trying to find them.

Rainbow Rowell’s second young adult novel follows reticent Cath through her freshman year of college as she copes with social anxiety, a suddenly distant twin sister, balancing her fanfiction writing career with her Fiction Writing class, boys who smile too much, and boys who lie too much.  There’s more too – child abandonment, mental instability, alcohol abuse, romance.  It comes together to form one of the best contemporary novels I’ve ever read.  Seriously.  It’s up there with my favorite of favorites, Anna and the French Kiss.  Possibly higher.

I think this is primarily because of how natural everything felt.  Even the heavier topics I mentioned above manage to fit organically into the plot without ever overtaking the story. It’s not a novel about alcohol abuse or family problems or anxiety.  It’s about Cath.  All those issues just happen to be part of her life.

That naturalness applies to the characters as well.  No matter how sparsely or frequently they appear, every single one of them seems just as real as anyone I’ve met during my own first year of college; as if (to use a phrase from the book) they were about to “evolve right off the page.”  That goes for everyone from Cath’s twin sister Wren, to her snarky roommate Reagan, to Levi the ever-friendly Starbucks employee who always seems to be hanging around their room.

The relationships between all these characters, too, were gorgeously built.  They grew slowly and honestly.  No snap friendships or instant romance to be found here.  Everything took time (sometimes, given Cath’s trust issues, quite a bit of time).

This is usually where I might add in a however or but; where I might comment on something that bugged me or didn’t exactly work.  Hard as I search my mind, though, I can’t think of one negative thing to say about Fangirl.  Not one.

So, instead, I’ll talk about something that could have gone badly, but didn’t.  Really, really didn’t.

Much of the story centers around a made-up, Harry Potter-esque book series that Cath has not only adored since childhood, but for which she’s spent the last two years penning a novel-length fanfiction.  I was skeptical at first of how Rowell would handle the fact that her main character was devoting a good chunk of her thoughts to books and characters with whom her readers would be unfamiliar.

It wasn’t a problem.  Namely, because she made sure readers would be familiar with the Simon Snow world-within-a-world she’d created.  Throughout the novel, Rowell separates sections with excerpts from both the Simon Snow books themselves and Cath’s Simon Snow fanfiction.  This too somehow seemed perfectly natural and necessary; partly because these segments often had something to do with what was happening in Cath’s life, and partly because they provided proof of Cath’s passion for writing.  Rowell doesn’t simply say that her main character is a writer.  She shows her to be one.  And, just as importantly, Rowell gives her readers the opportunity to care about Simon Snow, and so to understand why Cath does.  (For the record, I miss Simon and Baz right now just as much as I do Cath and Levi.)

On that note, I happen to be a mild (by which I mean obsessed) fanfiction addict, but I hope I haven’t given the impression that you have to be a fangirl yourself to enjoy this book.  You don’t.  Fandom culture is certainly an element of the story, but, like the alcohol and abandonment plot lines,  it never overpowers the narrative.

I’m still not sure I managed to express how much I enjoyed this book, but I’ll leave at this: Read Fangirl.  It’s well written, quirky, deep, and definitely worth both the time and bookshelf space.

Amazon     Barnes and Noble     Goodreads

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About brilligbookreviews

Kat. 19. Prone to losing entire days to paranormal romance novels. brilligbookreviews.wordpress.com View all posts by brilligbookreviews

2 responses to “Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

  • socalmbutnot

    I’ve been meaning to read this book! Your review only makes me want to read it more! I’ve spent hours reading fan fiction about my many obsessions and if it’s anything like Eleanor & Park, I’m sure I’ll love it! Thanks for sharing!

    • brilligbookreviews

      I’ve been really wanting to read Eleanor & Park! This is the first Rainbow Rowell book I’ve read, and now I’m dying to get my hands on all her other novels. Stupid midterms…

      Anyway, I’d (obviously) definitely recommend Fangirl. I’m sort of in that mode of trying to convince everyone I’ve ever met to start reading it immediately. And especially if you like fanfiction… I’m a total addict too, and it’s awesome to see it portrayed so accurately and playing such a large role in a book. Except now I really want to reread a bunch of my favorite fanfics. I repeat, stupid midterms.

      Anyway, thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment!! Definitely putting Eleanor & Park on my to-read list now.

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