08 October 2014

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Oh my. This was sooooo much fun to read.

I came across this novel in an Entertainment Weekly article (or was it an interview with Rainbow Rowell about this very book?). It just sounded amazing.

In Fangirl, Cath - short for Cather - goes off to college, with her twin sister Wren. It’s their first time living apart, since they don’t share rooms, and both Cath and Wren have to find their identities apart from each other for the first time. Mostly by Wren’s choice. Cath is far more codependent.

Cath has to navigate college, her first serious relationship, her aspirations as a creative writing major, and her obsession with Simon Snow (an analogue/parody of Harry Potter). Cath writes fanfiction for Simon Snow - some of the most popular fanfics, in fact, with hits in the tens of thousands. She’s set up as the definitive fanfic writer for Simon Snow - at least for Simon Snow slash-fic, with Simon paired with Baz, his archnemesis in the book. Clearly a nod at those who pair Harry and Draco Malfoy in fanfics.

There’s so much I want to talk about. First, Cath and Wren’s father, who suffers from a pretty severe case of manic disorder. Rowell treats him with such compassion - showing how he struggles to live his life, how Cath (and Wren) worry about him, and how he knows the burden he places on them. At one point, Cath wants to come back home and take care of him.

His answer: “I couldn’t live with myself if you did.”

It was just heartbreaking. Frequent (purely hypothetical) readers of this blog will know that I have my own experience with mood disorders, both personally and from my immediate and extended family. And Rowell perfectly captured the guilt that goes with the disorder. There’s nothing worse than the feeling you’re dragging the people that you love down with you.

Next, Cath’s boys. First, there’s Nick, who seems to be a perfect match for her: a fellow writer, an artiste, and he’s so in sync with Cath it’s thrilling to read about them working together. Then there’s Levi, who Cath thinks is her roommate’s boyfriend, though that’s not actually the case. The chase between Levi and Cath is so much fun to watch. I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to say that Cath and Levi’s relationship is the one that ultimately bears fruit - Levi is on the cover, after all - though there are certainly bumps on the road. Cath and Levi’s first night together, when she reads an entire book aloud to him, was one of the most pure and romantic scenes I’ve read in a while. I don’t know why it should be. It just really tugged my heartstrings.

Then there’s Wren. Cath and Wren have to find a new balance in their lives. Wren wants to be her own person, but Cath isn’t so ready to face the world. Both of them make poor choices at times. They hurt each other. Seeing them find a new way to be is beautiful and harrowing.

Last, there’s Simon Snow, the greatest presence in Cath’s life. I’ve never had much interest in fanfiction, but after reading Fangirl I understand the allure. Cath loves disappearing in Simon’s world; she’s more comfortable there than in the real world. The war between that world, whatever worlds Cath might dream up on her own, and the real world is where the most interesting conflicts occur.

I absolutely adored Fangirl, so much so that after I read it from the library I went and bought a copy for myself to keep. It’s got such a perfect voice in it. I can’t believe it took me a year to get around to it.