Monday, April 21, 2014

Book review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

To me, this book was perfect. Between Rowell’s flawless turns of phrase, her on-point descriptions of adapting to college, and her loving nods to fandom, I tore through this novel and loved every moment. The premise is this: Cath and her identical twin sister Wren had been, for most of their lives, mega-fans of the Simon Snow series (a Harry Potter analog.) Both were avid fanfiction writers and consumers, and they were also involved  with cosplay, creating and sharing fanart, the works. Upon entering college, though, Wren seems to be taking a step back from fandom and from Cath herself, leaving Cath feeling abandoned and confused. Initially, she dives deeper into completing her massive, ongoing Simon Snow fanfiction — a piece which has tens of thousands of adoring fans who know her pseudonym by name and has even spawned fanart of its own — but she finds it harder and harder to balance her updates online with various obligations at school. The other key players in Cath’s life become Reagan, her roommate; Levi, Reagan’s boyfriend; and Nick, a classmate from her advanced literature writing class.

I’ve seen criticism that Fangirl perpetuates the worst stereotypes about fangirls and fandom and gives lit-nerds “The Big Bang Theory” treatment (readers laugh at them, not with them,) but I just didn’t interpret the book this way at all. It’s true that Cath is painfully socially inept at times and she is also naive in a way that one wouldn’t necessarily expect from someone who writes “slash” fanfiction, especially when contrasted with her sophisticated, outgoing sister Wren. But even as someone who would rarely be described by anyone as introverted, I identified with Cath throughout the book, demonstrating that personality quirks aside, many human emotions and experiences are universal. Who hasn’t ever felt defensive about something they love in the fact of ridicule or even gentle teasing? Who hasn’t, at any point, ever misunderstood the intentions — platonic or romantic — of someone close to them? Hasn’t everyone had a time of feeling stressed and confused by someone in their life who they thought they knew acting wildly out of character? I didn’t see any of Cath’s personality elements as stereotypical flaws, but as genuine and understandable reactions to unfamiliar and jarring situations.

I could go on at length about so many other aspects of this book that I loved, but really I just recommend that everyone experience it for themselves. It’s really that good, and I can’t believe it took me so long to read Rainbow Rowell. I’m remedy-ing that as we speak!

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