Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013
ISBNs 1250030951 and 0804121281
*Please note that the following post may contain spoilers and does not summarize the text, as it was written as part of my coursework for LIS 7220 Materials for Young Adults, and the first group of intended readers are my professor and classmates, who should be familiar with the book. If I make adjustments or an additional post with summary/review information in the future, I will post an update link here. Now read on!
There is no question that this text has literary merit. It is also obvious that Rainbow Rowell either has some familiarity with some fanfic writing, or knows others who do the same. I myself only really started to encounter fanfic (as it is today online) in the past few years, and that not from personal experience but from talking with Alyc, David’s (my partner) friend and writer who has done a fair amount of fic. I also recently met one of David’s cousins at Thanksgiving, a teen who writes fanfic about a boy band, and one of my co-workers writes fanfic exclusively about Lord of the Rings.
Since I’ve been viewing this as a new and legitimate genre of writing, I was highly suspicious of how this book would pan out. Overall, however, I really liked it, except for the very last page. Although it is great that Cath is now writing outside of her comfort zone, the notation of her success with her personal short story seems to imply that there is something more “real” about her success as a writer at the end of the book, versus the fame and many followers of Magicath. I suspect I may be reading overly much into it, however.
There is certainly a pleasure value to the book. Reading Cath’s fanfic within the text as well as following her transition into college reads pleasantly, leaving me with a buzz of excitement similar to that given by Pride and Prejudice as far as romances go. I suspect many teens (girls in particular) would find the appeal in this.
What gives the book its most depth, however, are her family relationships. I like how the reader first has to piece together Cath and Wren’s dad’s mental illness, particularly at the start of Chapter Six with Cath’s many voicemails. Wren’s alcoholic tendencies and the loss (and return) of the girls’ mother are also fascinating, although definitely in the undercurrent of Cath’s life, in her writing and her thoughts constantly but not on the surface of the text at all times. The themes of escapism, coping, loss, and trust are constantly pulsing in this book, and I think Rowell skillfully keeps a cap on it so that it’s not too heavy handed for readers. This is the sort of book which might be fun for a teen to read but would also work well in English class.
I’m considering listening to the end of the novel. I read most of it, with breaks of audio while I broke the ice on our sidewalks and driveway (which let me blow some steam in Nick’s direction), and I was stunned (although I should not have been surprised) the first time a male voice interjected in-between chapters, reading the in-text text of fanfic and canon Simon Snow. It certainly made it easier to tell what section was being read (when Cath was reading her own fanfic to Levi, the same female narrator continued the reading, which makes sense but also made it a bit difficult to tell when she was reading and when she was narrating), but I wonder which reader read the exerpt from Cath’s short story at the end of the book. If the female narrator reads, I would give the audiobook credit for making a smart choice in supporting the narrative, which implies that Cath has found her own voice.
I only wish there were a way to support that theme, of Cath’s growing up and growing beyond the crutches of her childhood, without implying in some way that fanfic is also a building block towards “real” writing. I’m still deciding if I should buy a copy of this to send to Alyc of not.