Cath is a Simon Snow superfan. She writes fan fiction about the popular magic books, and she has a massive online following. For so long it was Cath and Wren, her identical twin sister, against the world. That world meant mostly living in the fictional world of Simon Snow. But now the girls are off to college, and Wren seems more than happy to sever ties to the fan fiction world and, it seems, to Cath. So Cath starts off her freshman year, feeling every bit alone. But she makes connections along the way, despite her best efforts not to. How much is Cath willing to sacrifice of her Simon Snow world in order to live in her real one? And should she have to?
I’ve been putting off writing this review for weeks because I don’t know how to do it justice. I don’t know how to make my feelings about this book–about how immensely I enjoyed this book–turn into words for a review. I wanted to live in this book. I didn’t want it to end. It gives me the warm fuzzies. Rainbow Rowell is one of my favorite authors, and she continuously delivers memorable characters, authentic stories, and a fictional world so vivid I want to escape into it.
Since I’m not immersed in any fandoms but am familiar with how they work, I approached this novel differently than readers who are fully committed to one or more fandoms. But what I will say–and I doubt I’ll find many who disagree–is that Rowell not only did her research when it comes to fandom, but she respects the hell out of what they are what they stand for. Readers understand why Cath is so tied to the world of Simon Snow. The book expertly intersperses snippets from the Simon Snow books (the cannon) and Cath’s own fan fiction. These bits so perfectly mirror what is happening in Cath’s real life, it feels seamless.
But the real brilliance in this story comes from how well Rowell treats her characters. She takes all the stock characters one might expect in a coming-of-age novel and fleshes them out, makes them whole. Each character–from Cath’s prickly, hilarious roommate Reagan to love interest Levi–feels authentic. These people are funny, loyal, and very vulnerable. They have flaws (Cath has many), which both ups the stakes and makes it all the more captivating.
Rowell is a brilliant writer, and she manages to explore a plethora of topics without ever sinking into didactic cliches. This is one that can’t be missed, whether you identify with a fandom or not. One of the best books of the year.
Highly, highly recommended.
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. St. Martin’s Press: 2013. Purchased copy.