Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell Review

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(Via Goodreads.com)From the author the New York Times bestseller Eleanor & Park

A coming-of-age tale of fan fiction, family and first love. 

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?

Because I’m a fan of Rainbow Rowell, I highly anticipated the delivery of her most recent novel, Fangirl.  Eleanor and Park left me smitten with Rowell’s grittily honest writing style, realistic characters, and insight into the psyche of people like me.  Perhaps that is more to the reason why I could not put either of the books down: Rowell understands the awkwardness of being physically less than idealistic, having quirky tastes that cause others say, “Huh?  What is that??”  I never knew what to call my obsessions when I was in high school and college, so I was just weird and closeted most of what I considered to be the wrong parts of myself.  Part of me wants to send J. K. Rowling a Humanitarian award and a fruit basket because with the invention of the Harry Potter series, it almost gave fangirls and fanboys the pass to be unapologetically nerds!  The other half of me would send the same offering to John and Hank Green because they have undoubtedly paved the way for Nerdfighters, like me, to define what it means to be a nerd and that it’s an amazing thing to be:

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And that’s what I am about YA Lit, what my students are about their art, Star Wars, anime, the boy band of the year, and learning!  Enter Cath, the hesitant protagonist of Rowell’s poignant novel, Fangirl, who simply wants to feel comfortable in her own skin.  The irony about Cath’s introverted personality is that she’s an internet celebrity with her daily fan fiction additions to the Simon Snow series, getting thousands of hits and support from fans who just cannot wait for the 8th and final addition.  In order to maintain her online life, she must hide away in her dorm, turn down reluctant offers from her roommate to go out, and shoot down the kindnesses offered by this odd man/boy who has invaded her room, Levi.

I also appreciate the juxtaposition of Cath’s  identical twin sister, Wren, who refuses to be tied down to her sister any longer.  Wren craves a separate identity and finds it at the bottom of multiple bottles of beer.   The relationship that develops with the new roles that each girl takes on during their freshmen year of college exposes their truths and hidden strengths and weaknesses that being each other’s shadow has prevented from surfacing.

This story is much more than just the tale of a shy and socially awkward girl coming out of her shell with the help of a boy.  Is there a knight-in-shining-armor-type present who helps chip away Cath’s walls?  Sure.  But Rowell is such an elegant author that she knows that it would be too easy and too gag reflex-inducing if she were to allow yet another YA book revolve around the need for a man to save a flailing girl ::cough cough Twilight cough cough::  Levi ends up supporting, not rescuing Cath.  He’s there to give her the platform to grow into what she’s always been capable of.  And their relationship doesn’t overshadow her personal growth.  The growing pains that Cath goes through, such as dealing with the reality of her parents’ issues, a separation from her comfort zone both emotionally and physically, and adapting to the elevated standards of college are things that everyone must go through.  This novel is a realistic look at the coming of age of a young woman who is trying to find herself, but doesn’t quite know if she’s ready to release her grip on the comfort of who she has been up until this point.

I applaud Rainbow Rowell for creating a character who is realistic and also an example for other nerds who just want to feel a sense of comfort in who they are, but also that it’s ok to take chances and try something new.

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