Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell is a book I've been meaning to read for a while. Some time ago (within the past two years, I think) I acquired the audiobook and now, this past week, I finally had a long car journey in which to listen to it. If you were wondering, the round-trip of driving was only about 41 minutes short of the whole book, so that's pretty convenient.

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?

So. This is a YA (or new adult, perhaps, since it's set in college) novel about a girl who writes fanfiction starting college and navigating that while also dealing with various family and fandom issues. The original work she writes fanfiction of clearly inspired by Harry Potter, as is the general structure of the fandom community. And using that analogy, Cath writes immensely popular Harry/Draco slash and Fangirl is set just before the last book in the series comes out. (Actually, one thing that really bothered me was a throwaway mention of Harry Potter which absolutely cannot coexist in the same world as Simon Snow. The world cannot support both fandom in the same way. Anyway. Throwaway line, as I said, but one that definitely should have been edited out.)

Overall this is a contemporary romance story, dotted with a lot of geekiness. It's also a coming-of-age story about the first year of college for Cath and her twin sister Ren (but mostly focussing on Cath as the only point of view character). It dealt with some hard-hitting issues, liberally interspersed with fanfic-writing issues, which could easily be seen as trivial, but were clearly very important to Cath. The way in which all the issues were presented worked together to make this a book that was sufficiently upbeat (without being saccharine) to listen to on a long car journey. I'm sure I would have also enjoyed it in paper (and probably gotten through it in fewer hours) but it worked well as an audiobook.

I recommend Fangirl to geeky YA readers, especially those with at least a passing awareness of Harry Potter fandom. (That's how I'd classify myself, by the way. I have never gotten into reading or writing fanfiction, but most of my friends have at one point or another, and I'm pretty sure I got all the jokes.) On the other hand, my mother, who was forced to also listen to Fangirl in the car, had no knowledge of fanfiction and still enjoyed the book. It has broad appeal. I am somewhat interested in reading Carry On, a book based on the fic Cath was writing in Fangirl, but not enough to rush out and buy it immediately.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2013, St Martin's Press
Series: No, although there is a related book (Carry On, supposedly the fanfic Cath is writing in Fangirl, which has spawned its own series)
Format read: Audiobook
Source: Audible (freebie for signing up)

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