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?
I will not fan girl over this book. I will not fan girl over this book. Oh, who am I kidding? I was fan girling all over Fangirl from the moment I met our protagonist, Cather/Cath. She is exactly the type of contemporary character you root for to evolve and develop over the course of the story, and it was an interesting twist to see her struggle alongside her twin sister, Wren, (Cather + Wren = Catherine… their parents are geniuses) and realizing who you were is not always who you want to be.
Rainbow Rowell is a YA fan favorite, as many in the book blogging community know, she cast a spell on any who read her first YA novel, Eleanor and Park, which came out at the beginning of this year. She’s also the author of an adult contemporary novel called, Attachments, which is about two women whose work emails catch the attention of the man hired to monitor work emails… and of course about how he falls in love with her.
Cath and Wren are going into their freshman year of college in Nebraska, which Rainbow paints as a beautiful and authentic college setting. The story is split between two semesters, fall and spring, as it takes place at college and at Cath and Wren’s home with their father. After their mother abandoned their family while the girls were young, their father was left to raise them and we see Cath and Wren at two opposite ends of the personality scale: introverted (shy, contemplative) and extroverted (outgoing, and social). I recognized Cath as an introvert as I have the same similarities in personality, and I felt that I was able to really see through her eyes during moments of panic, guilt, and sadness. What I love about Cath is that she develops over the course of the story, and while it’s slow going, it’s true. She doesn’t automatically meet prince charming and fall in love and is happy forever. She dislikes her love interest at first, and it was a sweet surprise when they both opened their eyes and really saw each other.
The story unravels in Cath’s perspective and we see how her relationship with Wren is slowly coming undone until they flat out stop talking. Their personalities crash in terms of socializing and popularity, but they come together through their mutual love of Simon Snow, a fictional magical book series, much like Harry Potter, that has an intense fan base. Cath and Wren are a part of this fan base, and in particular, they are involved in fan fiction writing. Over the years, Cath has written fan fiction about Simon Snow and his arch nemesis roommate, Basile/Baz. As the girls transition into college life, Wren separates herself from this world while Cath attaches herself more closely to the world she has created in order to separate herself from having to adapt to change. Cath wants to hold onto what she thought was her better years in high school where she was able to keep everything in a neat little pile, all organized and cohesive, just like she feels obligated to take care of her father as he spirals out of control by himself with work and loneliness.
Rowell’s signature wit, which I’ve heard made Eleanor and Park such a fascinating and fun read, is present in almost every corner of this story, but it not overwhelming or harsh. It’s sweet and endearing and some lines are laugh out loud funny. There may have been references I missed, but I think Rainbow did a fabulous job of not going too far into the archives for nerdy movie/book references, but kept it at a general level for all ages (okay, you may have to be in your late teens by now to have gotten most of the references) to enjoy. This being said, I would recommend this novel to those in their late teens, as Cath deals with abandonment issues, her sister’s hospital scare with alcohol, and a slow building romance that skirts around the naughty bits while focusing on how it feels to touch and be touched for the first time. How cheesy, I know, but it’s sweet in the novel, I promise!
As with Attachments and Eleanor and Park, this is a standalone novel, which I am very pleased with overall. My one disappointment was that I wish Rainbow had developed was Cath and Wren’s relationship with their mother, Laura. Wren eventually lets her back into her life, but Cath never really got over her grudge against their mother for leaving them and I felt that it wasn’t addressed at the end as it should have been. Even if it had just been Cath forgiving her or telling Wren she was okay with them talking, I felt it needed more.
Maybe I’ll create a fan fiction and write an alternate ending for Cath and Wren’s mother. Maybe that’s what Rainbow wants the reader to see; stories end in books but not in our imaginations or in our hearts.
My Over All Rating: