The Lost Entwife, January 7, 2015 (view all comments by The Lost Entwife)
I'm in two camps when it comes to Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl. First, I absolutely, "five-star" loved this book due to its setting and the description of Lincoln/Omaha area - in fact, Rowell's heart is definitely in Nebraska and that's why I'm drawn to her storytelling as much as I am. On the other hand, there were several elements of Fangirl that I really struggled with. So I'm going to flesh out each of these camps and leave it to you to decide if you want to pick this one up.
First, the good stuff. Rowell completely incorporates the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus into her storytelling. The descriptions of downtown Lincoln, of campus and the buildings (Yes, we do have Love Library and yes there is a strange breeze down in its depths), the dorms (I've eaten in Selleck many a time - both this year as well as back in the 90's), and the atmosphere (it's Nebraska, there are a lot of white people on campus). But she does't stop there. Cather (Willa Cather, notable Nebraska author) is a celebrated name on campus and also one of the dorm names - and Rainbow makes her the protagonist of Fangirl. Then there's Abel (also a dorm on campus), the long-distance "boyfriend" to Cather. Sprinkled throughout the pages of Fangirl is, ultimately, an ode to the school and to life in Lincoln, NE - and being a student at UNL currently, one who is frequently in Andrews Hall (getting an M.A. in English Lit will do that to you), I felt like I was roaming the campus while away from it on Christmas break. The only glaring thing that was missing was the presence of the Cornhuskers, although there is a nod to gameday in the pages which I appreciated. (Seriously, even East Campus gets some love here!)
If you've never been to Lincoln, NE or seen the UNL campus, Rowell nails it, basically. Except for the walking to Valentino's thing - I don't know of one within walking distance of City Campus (well, there's a small one, but no buffet there anymore). Oh! And the cheeseburger pizza? It's a thing here. But where were the Runza references?
So, now that I've gone through all of that, let's talk about the actual story. First of all, flat out, I'm going to say I hated the fanfic parts. I wasn't interested in the story there, the resemblance to Harry Potter and Twilight (or a mix of the two) was really strong and I just wasn't interested in reading it. This means that there were huge sections of the book that I just skimmed pretty much. I did appreciate, however, the distinction made to Cather about writing from her own experience and writing using the "borrowing" of another authors world and characters. I don't read fan-fiction, not because I have a moral issue with it, but because I don't think anyone can truly capture what it is to live in the world except for the author who created it.
As for Cather, as a character, she seemed just... weak to me. I get that Rowell was trying to show two sides of the same coin with the twin girls and the fall-out from a mother who abandoned them, but that story really struggled under the weight of the romance and the fan-fiction and the plethora of Simon Snow references. I got, very early on, that Cather was a Simon Snow fan, but still all the way through the book the proof of that kept being described. Instead, I wanted to see the mental health issues being addressed, because every member of that family had them. I wanted to see more of a support system being built and, with access to a place like UNL, see even some of the benefits of being a student being worked into the story (there is a great counseling center right on campus as well as numerous groups that can provide support). Instead, we got just a taste of how the bad stuff can get out of control and then a quick, band-aid fix that really didn't provide much closure.
I think, primarily, I kept reading this book because it reminded me of my now-home. I loved seeing places I adore referenced in the pages of a book and knowing that there are so many people out there also reading about that place. Lincoln doesn't get enough credit - it's a great little city and the UNL campus is a beautiful one. I just wish the rest of the story had held up to scrutiny.
kristinwithani, January 2, 2015 (view all comments by kristinwithani)
I loved Eleanor and Park, so I thought I would try another of Rainbow Rowell's novels--I wasn't disappointed! I love Fangirl! It reminds me so much of when I started reading and writing Fanfiction, I almost thought it was about me! I'm so happy and grateful that someone has finally taken the time to write a novel about the Fanfiction culture. Thank you, Rowell, for writing such a fantastic novel. I wish there was more!
Disquietus, April 27, 2014 (view all comments by Disquietus)
Coming up with the words to write this review has mostly been impossible. Nothing I could ever tell you about my experience with this book could give justice to how much I utterly love and adore and want to live within its pages. I’ve read dozens of amazing contemporary books this year, that I’ve loved to an insane extent, but Fangirl is the moon and stars and sun and ocean of books. I definitely fall into the camp of considering this a new adult book and it’s everything that I want new adult books to be. A beautiful, heart warming, realistic, and relatable story that explores family, love, friendship and self-exploration in a truly unforgettable story.
There have been a lot of characters that I’ve related to this year, but none have resonated with me as much as Cath. An introvert who hides behind her computer screen and refuses to let anyone into her carefully built walls after her mother walks out on her family, there were times where reading about Cath was almost like looking in a mirror, in both good and bad ways. Part of Cath’s charm is that she is so obviously a flawed character. She’s equal parts funny, sweet, talented and caring as well as stubborn, self-absorbed and naive. It often feels as if she cares more about the fictional universe she writes fanfic for then the universe she’s living in, and really haven’t most of us been there? She is just so likable that seeing her character grow and step outside of that comfort zone had me cheering for her the entire time. REALLY HOW CAN YOU NOT LOVE AND CHEER FOR A CHARACTER WHO HAS KANYE DANCE PARTY’S ON HER BAD DAYS?
The writing is what I’ve come to expect from Rowell. You know, utter perfection. I loved the pacing and the way the story encompassed the entirety of her freshman year and all of the stories developments on a realistic timeline. Nothing felt rushed or like Cath changed her entire personality miraculously overnight. I love it when contemps get that right. The writing was smart, witty, poignant and 100% engaging. The story made me so incredibly nostalgic for my own freshman year of college, and made me remember a lot of things I thought I’d forgotten. It even gave me the urge to dig out all of my old journals that I have buried in storage somewhere. It was so realistic and engaging that I felt as if I was living the year right alongside Cath and the other characters.
The one thing I really was not a huge fan of was all the excerpts of Cath’s fan fiction. I understand it’s purpose, especially the way it brings Cath and Levi together and such, but sometimes I felt like there was just a little too much. The short bits weren’t so bad, but the super long parts that Cath reads to Levi drove me crazy. I didn’t care about the fictional Simon Snow world (although yes, if this was a real series I would totally be all over it), I cared about Cath’s. I did think the reading aloud to Levi thing was adorable though. My best friend actually read Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows aloud to her husband, so when I read about that it made me think of that and smile because they are the most adorable couple I know.
While the focus of the story is Cath’s self-exploration, her relationship with her family is a huge part of that. Naturally I related to her relationship with her sister and dad way more than I should have. Cath is completely thrown for a loop that her twin, Wren, doesn’t want to be roommates. Wren and Cath, while sharing the Simon Snow love, are pretty much complete opposites in every way and the distance that grows between them when they start college, even though they are going to the same school, obviously hurts both of them and I really loved seeing that dynamic explored. I don’t have a twin (although I’ve always wished I did because I totally always wanted to be the evil twin when I was a kid-thank you Sweet Valley High), but I do have a cousin whose only six months younger than me and is more like my sister than my cousin and we went through a similar phase when we went into high school and it was utterly devastating for me. Watching Cath go through that with Wren brought all of that back to the forefront and I loved seeing the sisters find that balance again, even if I didn’t particularly like Wren’s character.
I also loved that Rowell actually created realistic parent/child relationships and explored them. Despite the fact that Cath is away at college and doing her own thing, her relationship with both parents, for better or worse, was definitely very present in the story. Also her mother is a horrible human being. As much rage as I felt at her for abandoning her family, I think I felt even more rage at her giving her kids weird names because she was too lazy to think of a second name when she found out she was having twins. I mean, Wren’s not that bad but Cather? WHO DOES THAT TO THEIR CHILD? Crap moms, that’s who.
Of course the book has a totally glorious romance because Rowell is amazing at that. LEVI IS MY EVERYTHING. During my freshman year, I super bonded with my RA. I think he mostly took pity on me because my roommate was horrible and I was obviously lonely and socially awkward, but he was kind of my hero that year and I was half in love with him. He was just a truly good guy and helped bring me out of my shell more than I might have without him. Plus he let me sleep on the couch in his dorm room when my roommate stumbled in loud and drunk or insisted on sleeping with the TV on. Man, I miss that guy. Anyway, tangent aside, Levi reminded me of him so freaking much it made me sad and nostalgic and so so feelsy. I loved his character so much and the development of his and Cath’s relationship was so beautiful and perfect just thinking about it makes my heart sing. It was the perfect-slow burn and even when Levi did some thing that made me want to junk punch him, he still held my heart. Seriously Cath, if you don’t someday marry him, I will. Because that is totally a possible thing.
As much as I love Levi and relate to Cath, Reagan was probably my favorite character. Her smart-ass ways and brutal honesty just spoke to me and I loved the balance she brought to Cath and the way she helped bring her out and obviously genuinely cared, even when she didn’t want to.
As a sidebar, and not that anyone probably cares but I feel like mentioning it because I’ve seen it mentioned by lots of people, while reading the book I think I figured out why Rowell uses a fictional fandom rather than Harry Potter, which Simon Snow is obviously pulled from. She actually kind of gives us the answer when Cath and her professor discuss the difference between fan fiction and plagiarism and Cath argues that it’s not plagiarism if she’s not profiting of it. If Rowell had used Harry Potter, and still included the excerpts of the fan fiction Cath wrote then technically she’d be profiting off of HP fan fiction which would technically be plagiarism. Yes. I thought about it too much but at least its sensible.
So yea. I guess I liked Fangirl. And think you should probably read it too. And if you actually read this monster of a review and all my crazy tangents, thanks for that.
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Beverly B, March 16, 2014 (view all comments by Beverly B)
Fangirl is everything a coming of age story is supposed to be. All of the characters are interesting, complex and likable, especially melancholy protagonist, Cath, and her intimidating roommate, Reagan. Cath has good reasons to be standoffish and snarky. Her personal life is a tangled mess of insecurity, change and instability. Cath is terrified of new situations, new people and change. And she would love to have some stability for once. Her anonymous online life, on the other hand, is a rousing success. Cath writes fanfiction for one of the world's most popular fan web sites, and her stories are an international phenomenon. She tries to hide from life as a college freshman, but luckily, Reagan and Reagan's high school sweetheart, Levi, have other ideas for Cath. They not only become her friends, they become her anchor. Cath's transformation from wallflower to almost genial is slow and filled with missteps, but she manages to hang on to her very funny sarcastic wit. There is no cliche happy ending, but there is a happier and hopeful ending. There is also a hint of a sequel, maybe
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Melinda Ott, December 19, 2013 (view all comments by Melinda Ott)
First of all, I owe sincere thanks to Rainbow Rowell for reintroducing me to Young Adult Fiction. Eleanor and Park is one of the best books I've read this year and Fangirl did not disappoint.
Here we meet Cath, a college freshman who was abandoned by her mother at a young age and by her twin sister as they entered college. Coupled with the responsibility she feels for her bipolar father and the fact that this introvert is now dealing with the campus world, Cath has a lot on her plate. Her coping mechanism is to fall into the world of fan fiction, based on the character of Simon Snow (sort of a riff on Harry Potter).
Cath is a wonderful character and I related to many of her experiences in college--and I saw a lot of myself and other people that I know in her. Rowell is a master at crafting true-to-life characters and Cath is one of her best. She is a little exasperating at times, but what 18 year old isn't? While I didn't "like" her twin sister, Wren, I found her an interesting character and foil for Cath. Levi was a little too good to be true, but that was okay with me!
There was only one thing that kept this book from being perfect for me--and it really has nothing to do with the book itself (it's not the book, it's me!). I never got into the fan fiction thing and I couldn't really relate to Cath's obsession with it. I didn't mind all the fan fiction, but it did sort of present a bit of a wall (or, at least a flimsy fence) between me and this book.
All in all, a great read and if you are looking for some quality Young Adult Fiction, I would highly recommend Fangirl.
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St. Martin's Griffin -
Genuine — and genuinely funny — this touching coming-of-age novel perfectly blends humor and heartfelt emotion. Fangirl is about love, fan fiction, outsiders, and sisters starting their freshmen year at college. This gem will captivate teen and adult readers alike.
"Publishers Weekly Review"
by Publishers Weekly,
"Cath Avery's life has two polestars: Wren, her identical twin, and the Simon Snow series, a Harry Potter — like publishing phenomenon that Cath has been reading — and rewriting, as a hugely popular fanfiction author — for years. While Cath is an expert on Simon's life, she finds her own difficult, especially now that she's starting college and Wren doesn't want them to room together. Since Cath would rather stay in her room and write than do anything involving other people, that first year is terrifying, which she expected, but also heartbreaking and romantic, which she did not. Rowell (Eleanor & Park) blends Cath's first year of college with excerpts of both the 'canon' Simon Snow books and Cath's distinctly non-canonical fanfic, to create a funny and tender coming-of-age story that's also the story of a writer finding her voice. Rowell makes all of Cath's relationships — with her father; Wren; her acerbic roommate, Reagan; and, especially, Reagan's ex Levi (who practically takes up residence in their room to woo the skeptical and extremely nervous Cath) — touching and utterly real. Ages 13up. Agent: Christopher Schelling, Selectric Artists. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
by Kirkus Reviews (starred review),
by Booklist (starred review),
"The magic here is cast not with wands but with Rowell's incredible ability to build complex, vivid, troubling and triumphant relationships....Fans of Eleanor & Park and other bookish, nerdy types will thrill at finding such a fantastic and lasting depiction of one of their own."
by School Library Journal (starred review),
"A charming coming-of-age novel...filled with complex subjects (such as divorce, abandonment, and mental illness) handled in a realistic manner, and the writing effortlessly and seamlessly weaves these threads together."
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