Author: Rainbow Rowell
Publisher: St. Martins/Griffin
Publication Date: September 10, 2013
Recommended for Ages: 17 and up
Synopsis (from Goodreads) -
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? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?
Fandom. It's an odd little thing, isn't it? I'm sitting here, having finished Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell the night before a potentially BIG, HUGE, EARTH-SHATTERING announcement about the discovery of "a number" of heretofore missing Doctor Who episodes hits the internet (my ever-optimistic heart wants that vague "number" to be over a hundred, but my realistic brain keeps tempering it down to three). Earlier today, I listened to the latest Verity Extra! in which the Verity! ladies squeed about all the Doctor Who delights that fill them with glee (to borrow a phrase). Mere weeks ago, it was announced that JK Rowling is writing a new spin-off movie in the Harry Potter world and around that same time, I officially joined Pottermore (the two events aren't really connected, but they're related). The Legend of Korra is in full swing and I've fangirled incessantly over the episode from two weeks ago in which we saw a photograph of Aang and Katara's family (I reblogged that probably twenty times on Tumblr and I don't see myself quitting anytime soon).
Fandom. It's become a way of life for me. And that is why I totally, utterly, completely adored Fangirl.
Fangirl is the story of Cath Avery, a college freshman who is a superfan of Simon Snow (very much a Harry Potter franchise analogue, just to avoid any lawsuits or whatever. Which is fine. The franchise itself isn’t nearly as important to this story as what it affects in one of its fans). She writes fanfiction and not just any fanfiction. She is right in the middle of an epic work of Carry On, Simon, as the rest of the world anticipates the eighth and final book in the Simon Snow series. But other things in her life try to pull her away. Her twin sister, Wren, once a fervent fellow fan has drifted away in favor of boys and booze. Cath's father isn't taking the departure of his daughters so well (their mother left their family a long time ago). Cath's roommate looks upon Cath's fannish-ness with some disdain (at least, at first). And the major that Cath chose (English) isn't as accepting of her fanworks as she initially hoped.
I relate to Cath on so many levels, it's kind of scary. Even down to majoring in English because I thought it would be a great excuse to enjoy writing and literature (yeeeeaaahhh... not so much. At least, not the kind of writing and literature I was interested in. Not to sound completely morbid or anything, but I can understand why Sylvia Plath stuck her head in the oven). My freshman year of college, I was all kinds of hyped up about Harry Potter (and about Lord of the Rings, to a lesser-extent). And it annoyed my roommates - especially the one that was on a very pointed campaign to be engaged by the end of her freshman year (amazingly, she got some poor schlub to slide a ring on her finger with two days left of Finals Week. Me? I'd only recently realized that you could get married in college (I was - still am - a late bloomer). Being the affable, easy-going person I am, I tried to temper my enthusiasm for it, but I eventually learned not to hide my fangirly ways from the people I'm around because they're going to come out anyway and it's best if I do it on my terms and I found that most people respect me for it (and it's not like I'm trying to hide a drug addiction or something anyway - what do I have to be ashamed of?) I never really wrote fanfiction, though I had plenty of ideas that I could just never see myself writing. But that doesn't mean I don't understand the process of immersing yourself in fandom when times get tough. I do it all the time.
It's amazing that we've gone so long without a book like Fangirl, but Rainbow Rowell's got the whole fangirl thing down pat. There are plenty of coming-of-age books where the protagonist is still in high school and just trying to navigate the stormy seas of adolescence - but those stormy seas usually involve learning how to socialize with the right crowds of people, getting good grades, initiation into wild parties, peer pressure, getting along with parents. Never has a book taken a coming-of-age that involved online fandom, which is something that (I think) is sorely needed for this new generation of people who became adults on the internet. We really were the first batch of kids who connected with people, not based on geographic location, but based on common interests. I can honestly say that the majority of the people in my age group and immediate area drive me up the freaking wall (certainly there are exceptions and they know who they are). But when I meet my online friends in real life, we have a blast! And it's because we've bonded via Twitter or Tumblr or Facebook over these stories and characters. One of my favorite moments in Fangirl is when Cath meets a girl whose been reading her fanfiction and the girl gushes about it to Cath (though the girl doesn't realize that she's talking to the author of the fanfiction and Cath doesn't say anything).
I realize that this isn't so much a review of this fantastic novel (which you all should read whether or not you understand fandom at all) - but it's given me an avenue to explore my fangirl-ways and to geek-out over the things that I love. Because that's what this book is - it's a celebration of all things fangirl (and fanboy, come to think of it) and it's a love-letter to all the fandoms that have gotten through those long days when we all felt alone or misunderstood or abandoned. I think everyone gets that way and we all need something to pull us out of the dark places. I know my fandoms have been a vital part of that for me (among other things) and that's why I appreciated Cath's story so much. It doesn't matter that her fannish-ness manifested in a way that's totally different than mine - I understand the culture. And I love it so very, very much.
I don't know what I'd do without it.
Afterword: It's interesting (for me) that this book came out this year because, after the utter disappointment that 2012 was to me, I declared that 2013 would be the Year of the Fangirl - meaning that I would not expect anything of 2013 except for things that I knew for certain were coming. Most of that meant the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who, new Marvel Universe movies as well as Agents of SHIELD, The Hobbit, Gallifrey One, the rebooted Sailor Moon anime (which actually got pushed back to 2014, but that's neither here nor there) and a whole host of other things that I can't remember right now, but they were important. It's just a personal thing and not really a wide-spread event, but I like it.