Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell


Title: Fangirl

Author: Rainbow Rowell

Rating: 4.5 Stars

I can't stop thinking about this book. Rowell's Eleanor & Park was the type of story that had the potential to become a favorite, but simply never broke that barrier of cheese. Needless to say, I was more than a little concerned diving into Fangirl. Although the masses of reviews claimed I'd love this (though they've been wrong before!), I still opened this book with trepidation. I slowly waded through those first few chapters, not entirely reviled, but not entirely enthralled either. And then, before I knew it, my fingers were flying across the pages, my eyes were growing red from emotion, and the book refused to leave my hands, my soul, my mind.

Fangirl isn't necessarily a ground-breaking read. Rowell, frankly, has done nothing overly brilliant with her latest piece. It is just a book. And yet, what makes it strike a chord in my heart is not the subject matter of fandoms, but rather the genuine manner in which college life is portrayed. What does it take to get a book about college devoid of alpha males and dramatic romance? Rainbow Rowell, apparently. For me, reading good New Adult is a refreshing, exotic experience, merely because it is so very rare, so this book is - truly - a gem. In its bare-bones form, Fangirl is the tale of a girl emerging from her shell. Only, you know, with plenty of fanfiction, romance, and parties thrown in.

Cath and Wren, twin sisters, have gone through everything together - their mother's abandonment, their father's quirks, their Simon Snow obsessions - and now they're both going to the same college. Only, this time, Wren wants her own freedom, leaving Cath - shy, insecure, and timid - to a new life all alone. All Cath has that teethers her to her old life are her fans. Cath, the writer of "Carry On", one of the biggest fanfiction stories on the internet, lives and breathes Simon Snow. Or, specifically, Simon and Baz - two enemies, one love story, totally not canon at all(think Drarry). Thus, unlike her party-going sister, Cath locks herself up in her room with nothing but her laptop for company. It turns out, though, that being a self-imposed recluse isn't quite so easy in college, and whether or not Cath embraces college-life, college-life is certainly going to be embracing her.

What I love about Fangirl is the realistic growth arcs that all the characters undergo. Most notably, of course, is Cath. What Rowell makes so clear in this novel is that taking chances means opening yourself up to both the good and the bad. While Cath goes one step forward - befriending her roommate Reagan, for instance - she is also forced back by a plethora of difficulties that embrace her at every turn. Not just socially, but academically as well. Cath struggles to perform well in her classes, pursuing an English degree, and write her fanfiction. She struggles to become self-reliant, on herself and new friends, instead of her sister. And, most importantly, she struggles to fully put aside her past life, perhaps because that life still exists. Just because Cath is in college, that doesn't mean that her past eighteen years are worthless. No, she still has to worry about her father, still has to live without her mother, still has to encounter the "crazy" in her head. And, though it can feel that there are simply too many problems on Cath's shoulders, there are also so many small reasons to be happy.

Rowell captures the depth and scope of these issues perfectly, creating a divide between Cath and Wren, forcing Cath to push outside her barriers, and making her realize her full potential - as a writer, as a friend, and as a sister. Moreover, I love the direction that Rowell takes this romance in. On one hand, it's slow-burn romance, tantalizing and gentle. On the other, however, it had the potential for a great deal of angst, which thankfully, Rowell immediately cuts off. Cath and her romantic interest hold real discussions with one another and, best of all, he never pushes her to move too fast, instead respecting her wishes for space and trying to understand any qualms she may have. Rowell depicts a wonderful romance, built on equal-footing and mutual respect, but also one that goes beyond those initial stages and into a much more complicated route. And yet, Rowell doesn't hesitate from sex, or at least discussions of sex and safe sex behavior. Fangirl is refreshing, mostly because of its catapult into New Adult, but partly because of its honest depiction of sex as well.

Where Fangirl falters is, ironically, in its portrayal of a fangirl. Cath, who loves the Simon Snow books and movies, reads like a true fangirl, in all her crazy glory. Rowell explores the difficulties that this may pose in college, which I appreciated, but this immersement into Cath's world is clunky and jarring at first. Moreover, the excerpts from Simon Snow novels and fanfiction that grace the endings of every chapter are, at times, unnecessary, doing nothing but slowing the pace of the novel. I think they were a highly creative manner of incorporating the Simon Snow Series into this book and when the excerpts matched up with the chapters, they were truly powerful, but that effect wasn't felt as constantly as I'd have liked. Either than that small blimp, though, I found that Rowell tackled everything beautifully in this novel, pulling together all the plot threads, tying up all loose ends, and writing one of my favorite self-discovery novels.

Fangirl will obviously appeal to the masses of fangirls (and fanboys) out there, but more than that, it is such a remarkable novel because its protagonist manages to grow and learn and change her outlook on life without embarking on a road trip or traveling to an exotic land. Instead, she is forced to stay put in college, to work out her issues with her sister, her professor, and her friends and tackle on all the challenges life throws at her instead of merely discarding them to be dealt with later. Rowell captures this tumultuous period in Cath's life perfectly, showing us the good and bad in everyone so that no one character lacks gray matter. Rowell's Fangirl hasn't quite made a fangirl out of me yet, but slowly and surely, Rowell will.

13 comments:

  1. This book is on my wishlist, I really want to read it! I think i'll love it! *__*

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  2. I don't think there are nearly enough books like this on the market, Keertana. Being able to watch the protagonist evolve as a human being is an amazing thing, and it sounds like the novel actually really offers readers that opportunity. I'm definitely adding this to my TBR now. Wonderful review!

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  3. YAY!!!! I'm thrilled you loved this one too Keertana! Like you said - it wasn't anything groundbreaking or unique - it was just college life on the page but it was done so, so well. The romance was so drama-free after the first minor hiccup, and I just couldn't get enough of it. I'm excited to see what she writes next!

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  4. Ergh, another high rating for this book! All the signs are pointing me towards reading this author (including the copy of this that landed on my doorstep, hah), but for some reason I feel resistant to it. I'm a little afraid because so many people love her so much, and because I somehow got the impression the books might be too cutesy for me? But everyone says I'll love it, so....I'm eyeing your rating with both interest and trepidation. I'll be by to visit your GR review at some point when I've gotten around to reading/reviewing this.

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

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    1. Wendy, I understand your hesitations perfectly. I wasn't a fan of ELEANOR AND PARK, but I connected with this mainly because I'm college-bound and could really understand the complicated emotions of these characters. I think Rowell struggles with matching that connection at first, though if you stick with this I think you'll really enjoy it. Cath can come across as whiny and reclusive, so I can see why you may not like this one, but I hope you do. I'll definitely be looking out for your thoughts on this when you pick it up!(:

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  5. Now this is a kind of book that I would stay away from, but after seeing so many good reviews, I have reconsidered. I'm most interested in those growth arcs since I do enjoy that in YA especially. Hm... I really might have to see if the library has this book. :)

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  6. As someone who graduated from college two years ago, I think I need to read this. I was definitely a little awkward my first two years there. I was a little shy and turned off by partying. But along the way, I met people, made friends. Friends who would accept me as I was. Eventually, I became more open and embraced a college lifestyle that didn't mean getting trashed every weekend for fun. With that said, I'd like to see how I would connect with this book. I've never read anything under New Adult - especially those that depict college life as edgy and sexy; I wouldn't know how to connect with those books; my experiences away from home while in college were vastly different. But the way you've broken down Fangirl and the messages within sound tenderly familiar. Keertana, your lovely review makes me wish I had the book in my hands right now. I'll have to get it soon!

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  7. YES. To EVERYTHING in your review, Keertana. Unlike you I was a fan of Eleanor & Park (I think mainly for the nostalgia it induced in me as a child of the 1980s) but Fangirl is by far the stronger book. I loved all aspects of it--realistic college setting, realistic sibling and parental issues, a wonderful authentic, melt your heart romance that was remarkably drama free (and yes to them actually DISCUSSING their problems & issues and moving slowly as they gOt to know each other!) But you know I think what I loved most about this book was that it seems tailor made for everyone who loves to read (fanfiction or just fiction) and everyone who loves to write or just admires writers and the magic they create. I felt like I was kind of enrolled in a fiction writing class myself as I read this book and I LOVED it:)

    This is a fantastic review--I'm so glad you gave this book a shot and that you ended up loving it in the end:)

    Oh, and Levi may be my newest book boyfriend--receding hairline and all:)

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  8. I honestly didn't realize how lacking the New Adult genre is until I read this book and realized how it should be done. You're right, this book doesn't have anything groundbreaking or remarkable in it. But it's simplicity makes it stand out among the crowd. Honestly one of my favorite things about this book is the "real discussions" that Cath has with HIM. They were so real that it was breathtaking and refreshing. I also agree with your assessment of the Simon Snow writing. I ended up skimming through that when I realized that skipping it wasn't going to detract from my experience with this book. Lovely review. I'm thrilled that this story struck you as much as it did me!

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  9. I remember your review for Eleanor and Park and I'm so happy to see that you've enjoyed this one. Everyone seem to be reading this one only I still haven't. I'm not into too girly things and I'm afraid that this one will be just that. It seems to me that I worry for no reason. Great review Keertana :)

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  10. Yay I'm so glad that you were able to have more luck with Rowell your second time reading one of her stories! I have Fangirl on top of my TBR pile in my room and expect to start it tonight or tomorrow at the latest. I like the fact that this sounds like it's new adult done right, and I also like the whole idea of Rowell looking into fanfiction and fandom culture. I've heard a few complaints on that front, however, so I guess I'll have to see for myself whether I like her portrayal of fandom culture. Still, though, this sounds like a great book, and that's also comforting to know that you think Rowell is growing as a writer, that her stories are getting better (or at least that's how I'm choosing to interpret your review). :)

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  11. This is the second review I've read of Fangirl today that makes me want to pick it up! I'm glad to hear the romance is a realistic portrayal of love and sex situations. Lovely review, Keertana! :)

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