“I pick my life apart that way, try to understand it better by writing straight through it.”
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?
I’m on a roll for Rainbow Rowell novels and since this is the last book that I can devour until she release a new one, I did tried to take my time in reading every pages as much as I can. In fact I already did a reread before heading here to write my thoughts about the book.
The story is about Cath who is a huge fan of Simon Snow books series – so much that she even write a fan fiction of the characters herself. She is pretty known online as Magicath, the fanfic author of ‘Carry On’ which has huge followers of its own. She used to write fan fiction stories with her twin sister Wren (known online as Wrenegade) but that was before college. Wren is so excited for college life that she decided to go separate ways with Cath even they are just studying in the same school. When Wren told Cath that she don’t want to be roommates with her, Cath world suddenly in chaos. Without her twin sister by her side, Cath comfort zone is gone and she struggle so much with the changes in her life.
“In new situations, all the trickiest rules are the ones nobody bothers to explain to you. (And the ones you can’t Google.)”
As I’ve said before in my review for Eleanor and Park, Rainbow Rowell really gets her characters – she knows them so well, and Cath is no exception. Cath was weaved in a way that you’ll easily connected to her even if you don’t experience yourself everything that she experienced. She is authentically unique in a sense that she has her own brand of being a misfit, but still someone easy to relate to and understand. She’s not perfect, in fact she got lots of flaws but even so you’ll still root for her as she try to navigate her life. Her struggles are realistic – from fandom, writing, family, and college life which makes it more easy to empathize for her. You’ll feel her confusions, struggles and loneliness in every pages of this book.
Fangirl despite of being a light and fun read also deals with different heavy themes such as but not limited to mental illness, abandonment, alcohol issues, introvert, and even plagiarism. There so much in this book that just romance, or fangirling, because Cath aside from being a fangirl is also a caring daughter to her Dad, a loving sister to Wren, and an inspiring writer. Clearly this novel is character driven. As Cath manage her relationships with her parents, her twin sister, her roommate, her roommate friend, her writing professor, and her writing partner you’ll see Cath’s character grow one step at a time.
Cath process of acceptance and embracing change around her is done in a right pace. Rainbow Rowell took her time in weaving Cath, making sure Cath experience life as it goes and not as if everything is a problem to be solve. She let Cath accept things on her own and embrace changes without making her throw or disregard the comfort zone she used to have. She let Cath explore things without abandoning the things and people that compose her ground level.
Even the romance is delivered in a gradual process, no insta-love or super fast development. It took awhile but sure it is worth waiting because when it finally happened you’ll definitely swoon and feel giddy for Cath.
Dissecting the story like a fangirl…
Fiction versus Reality
“Real life was something happening in her peripheral vision.”
Most of the story you’ll see Cath spend her life missing what’s happening around her. She is too focus in a fictional world that she continuously creating for her beloved character Simon Snow that she almost don’t participate much in real world. She missed a lot of things even those things that just under her nose. She almost didn’t notice Levi who is trying so hard to catch her attention. Right from the start I see Levi’s intention but Cath is too oblivious to see it. But I can relate to Cath, there are lots of time that I too become like her, that I don’t notice lots of things around me. It is so easy to get lost in real world and just cave in to fictional world. I can relate to her more than I am willing to admit. I feel that I’m at fault like her ignoring things and people around me because sometimes fictional world is much better than the real one.
But we can’t always stay in the fictional world no matter how great it is. Everyone needs to face the real world and live in it even if it is not as adventurous or colorful as the fictional worlds we choose or created. This is where Rainbow Rowell succeeded, she creatively showcase both the fictional and the real world to emphasize Cath’s inner conflict. She use fanfic to emphasize Cath’s issues and struggles. It’s like putting a mirror to Cath’s real world versus her fanfic world. When Cath decided to write a fan fiction for Simon and Baz, she do it because she isn’t ready to let go yet of the characters she love. She can’t move on that’s why she decided to create more of Simon and Baz so she can still stay in the safe and familiar world. That parallel to her own life, where moving on to college without her twin sister in her side is something she dreaded, so she spent her days staying alone in the safety of her dorm room not talking to anyone if possible. She’d rather live in Simon Snow’s fictional world rather than deal with her own college life.
For Cath fan fiction is her escape but it also shows that she is just too fearful of the change around her. She choose to find comfort in the familiar world of Simon and Baz than to face the changes of her own world. This analogy is also visible in Cath writing process, where writing fanfic about Simon and Baz is much easier for her than creating her own story. She is stuck with the safe and familiar world & characters that she dreaded to create her story with her own world and own characters.
Fandom and Fan Fiction
Evidently this book celebrates fandom and fan fiction. With Cath’s obsession and passion in writing fictional stories out of an existing story she dearly love, Fangirl offers the world of fanfic sub-culture for everyone. It give readers idea how the fan fiction world run or operates. Clearly Rainbow Rowell knows and understand this fanfic sub culture that I can picture her as being one herself. She gets fandom details pretty accurate from being a fanatic like Cath, upto the writing process and readers response to fanfic. Though I wish she also make the fandom groups more visible, like maybe making Cath interact more to them not only online but also in person. Though I understand that Cath being an introvert that she is, can easily choose to cave in online than do an actual person to person interaction.
The use of Simon Snow extracts between chapters both from Cath’s fan fiction and from the original author is also creatively done. Not only it shows Cath’s passion and obsession but it also reflects something of Cath. Some of her fan fiction entry for Simon and Baz shows her own thought and feeling in her real world to real people around her. It echoes her feelings, confusions and thoughts.
Fangirl is a celebration of what’s it is like to be crazy about something. Cath’s fanatic life is close to heart as it echo every fandom stories not only of those who love fictions but anything who love something in general. Her fanatic stories is spot on as it shows different sides of fandom with vibrant and honesty. Something every fan can relate too.
Celebration of Misfits
Not only Rainbow Rowell celebrates fan fiction in this book but also the existence of misfits or eccentric people. Actually, I think Rowell has a thing for misfits characters, because even her first two books, Attachments, and Eleanor and Park have unique eccentric characters in them.
In this book, her major character, Cath is someone who prefer staying in a fictional world than her own reality. Not only that, she is also anti-social with an anxiety problem. She can’t get past the fact that her twin sister decided to live on her own after being together since birth. Her anxiety is eating her and Rainbow Rowell written Cath’s struggle in a way that you can easily understand and feel for her. In fact, Cath never treated as a loser in this book, nor the story tells that being an introvert is wrong. Instead, Rainbow Rowell send across to readers how unhealthy Cath’s preferred life without stepping on her personality. She didn’t changed Cath just to fit in in college, instead she let Cath embrace her geeky side and the changes around her.
On Being a Writer
“That was the beauty in stacking up words–they got cheaper, the more you had of them.”
Another theme that Rainbow Rowell touch in this book is Cath’s journey in writing. She is a young writer who wants to find her voice not only in fan fiction but in the world of writers in general. Her writing process reflects so much of her personality and shows her growth as a person. When she is writing fan fiction you’ll see her confidence and pride. Writing about Simon Snow is so easy for her, words easily spill from her mind to paper/computer. But when it comes to writing her own story, Cath struggle so much. And that kind of struggle tells so much about her. It shows not only her vulnerability and limitations as a writer but also her fears and set of mind. She can’t forever write fan fiction. It maybe her passion but it is also the same thing that is holding her back.
“Sometimes writing is running downhill, your fingers jerking behind you on the keyboard the way your legs do when they can’t quite keep up with gravity.”
Fangirl is a self-discovery novel that celebrates fandom or being a fan in general. It reminds the readers that there’s a sub-culture out there exist for someone to express their love not only to fictional world and characters but to anything we love in general. Rainbow Rowell depicted a seemingly realistic story of a fangirl in Cath as she nails her vulnerability and issues about real life and growing up.