Author: Rainbow Rowell
Genres: YA, Contemporary, Romance, Realistic Fiction
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? Writing her own stories?
And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?
There’s something about Fangirl that knocks you for a six and yet feels achingly familiar at the same time. It’s as warm as a well-worn scarf yet as sharp and piercing as a pair of six-inch stilettos. There’s so much honesty and truth in the writing, it’s impossible to look away. It feels like an old favourite from the second you turn the first page and it’s hands down one of the most original books I’ve read all year.
Twins Cather and Wren have always been inseparable. Cather always believed they’d have each other’s backs no matter what, but the moment Wren tells her she doesn’t want them to be roommates in college, that dream shatters. Wren is surging toward independence; she doesn’t want to be known as a novelty twin or be mistaken for her sister anymore. She wants hot guys, wild parties, friends and interests of her own. Wren is leaving Cath behind.
Cather – alias Magicath, nickname Cath – isn’t outgoing or brave like Wren, but she is a wonderful protagonist. Even if you don’t like her right away, you won’t want to say goodbye to her by the end of the book. She’s dedicated, naïve, kind-hearted, flawed. She represents the best thing about the characters in Fangirl: they feel like real people whether you want them to or not, including spiky, forceful Reagan and slimy, despicable Nick.
My favourite character by far, however, was Levi. He’s unadulterated on-tap sunshine. He brightens up every page, and in a world where brooding bad boys with supernatural powers, violet eyes and a chronic need to be ‘saved’ rule the roost, he’s a breath of fresh air. He’s supportive, hard-working and has a deliciously mischievous sense of humour. He makes mistakes, but he tries to makes up for them and he always has a smile to spare. His romance with Cath felt so natural; it’s a slow-burn, eventful and satisfying. I fell for Levi hook line and sinker - and want to see more guys like him in YA.
Fangirl is a contemporary novel, so there are themes like the break up of family, mental health issues, overcoming fears and realizing that not all problems are meant to be solved, but it is, of course, also about fandom - and it’s brilliant. As Rowell taps into the previously unexplored importance of fandom throughout Fangirl, it’s apparent that it’s a trend-setting move that will appeal to readers everywhere. Cath writes fan-fiction for a book series about a young British wizard named Simon Snow (yes, it’s based on Harry Potter, though weirdly Harry Potter also seems to exist in Fangirl’s universe, and yes, it also walks that thin line between homage and blatant plagiarism more often than not). As the publication date for the final Simon Snow book looms near, Cath is also close to completing her Simon Snow fan-fiction epic, rather appropriately titled ‘Carry On, Simon’. In Cath’s version of the story, Harry – sorry, I mean Simon – and Draco – sorry, I mean, some guy called Baz – are more than just mortal enemies; they’re in love. Excerpts from both Cath’s fan-fiction and the Simon Snow series are littered throughout Fangirl but even they’re eclipsed by the sheer simple brilliance of Rowell’s decision to have fandom at the centre of her novel. It’s a trend setting move that begs the question “Why did no one ever think to do this in YA before?!”
Of course, with great hype comes great responsibility. Ther are downsides to the book – it’s not suitable for younger readers as it’s set during Cather and Wren’s first year of college, the Simon Snow excerpts occasionally feel as if they’re getting in the way of the real story, and perhaps worst of all, you may be reminded of the word ‘catheter’ every time you read Cather’s full name – but I’d still highly recommend it. It’s a story worth investing in: you won’t regret reading it, and I can guarantee you’ll be throwing Emergency Dance Parties of joy when you have.
In short: Fangirl is a page-turning, trend-setting and near-perfect novel. It’s an engaging and stylish tale of friendship, sisterhood, first love, new experiences and fandom which pours irresistibly off the page. The storytelling is exceptional and the romance is wonderful; it’s fresh, feel-good and punctuated by honesty. Magnificent.