Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl
Rainbow Rowell
St. Martin's Press
[September 10, 2013]

A coming-of-age tale of fan fiction, family and first love.

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? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?
It's time for a little history about Julie. Because that's the only way I can explain to you why this book is my soul and I don't know that another book can ever touch me the same way.

I was eleven when I first started reading fanfiction. To be totally honest, my first experience was a horribly dirty fanfic that was also horribly written about The Suite Life of Zack and Cody (I'm still slightly traumatized. Don't click fanfic links on IMDb boards without full explanation, kids). But from there, I moved on quickly. My next fandom was High School Musical (shut up, I was eleven). It...was not a super satisfying fanfic experience because...most of the fandom was eleven. 

Then I fell into the Twilight fandom. And, oh did I fall hard. I read the first book three times in one week because I had to wait a week to get the next two books. Eclipse had just come out and already the fandom was prepping for Breaking Dawn. I quickly found myself on the Twilight IMDb boards (where I met Lanna) and then fell into fanfic. It was the first fanfic community I wrote it and I was moderately successful, despite being 12/13. People didn't know my age and my vague mentions of school made it sound like I was in college. But I still met my first beta reader there (she was incredible) and I met some fantastic friends there (who I then stopped chatting with...until I started refinding some in the YA community). I started really chatting with a group of girls on the Robert Pattinson board and we formed a livejournal community (this was a BIG THING at the time) that was doing super well and it was all really lovely. 

My age was found out right before I turned 14, so a lot of the girls I was friends with, while they still liked me, weren't comfortable with my age. And I totally understood. It was fair and logical since so many of the fanfics were...not necessarily appropriate for a 13 year old. And frankly, I didn't really want to be involved anymore. It was just too much. 

Two months later, I was a blogger.

Flash forward to this past May. I was still reading Twilight fanfiction, though not writing and not in the community and not nearly with as much frequency. And it was time for my first BEA. I had finished my first year of college the week before, gone to visit my parents' and to celebrate my brother's birthday for a few days, then started moving into my first apartment over the weekend. The apartment had no A.C. and no internet and there was a heatwave, so I stayed in my dorm for a couple more nights, but the night before BEA was my first in the apartment. I was tired from helping out at Teen Author Carnival and finishing moving (kind of) the day before, but BEA! I slept in longer than I wanted, but I made it to the buzz panel where they talked about Fangirl. The story of a girl who loved fanfiction and this one particular fandom and was trying to figure out how to deal with this and starting college and all of the other things going on with those two parts of her life. And I knew, oh how I knew, this was a book of my soul. 

I started reading Fangirl while in lines at BEA that day. Then I raved all night to my roommate about it. I brought my ARC back to BEA the next day for more line reading and to get it signed by Rainbow. One of my biggest regrets is still that I didn't actually get to see her and that my ARC got signed thanks to a friend instead. Then I finally got it back and went home for the day and my roommate agreed to go to BEA with me the next day for Power Reader's Day. We tried to get her an ARC, but they were totally out. So, I passed her my ARC when we got home and started on one of the other books I had because...it's not like I didn't have others.

It didn't take long for her to run into my room, throw the book at me, and scream "READ IT, READ IT, READ IT."

And I did. And I finished the next day. Late at night, I closed the last page and I hugged that book for like five minutes. Because it really was the book of my soul. And I had a hard time putting it back down on our shared shelf, so she had access to it too.

Cath. Is. Me. Even though I was never her level of famous or even writing anymore by time I got to college and I didn't have a twin and my dad isn't bipolar and my mom is still very much in the picture, she is me. 

I spent more time at my desk, on my laptop, in my first year than I did with all of the people I knew in my dorm. My roommate was always the more social one, though neither of us were quite butterflies. I was always on my laptop, reading and clicking around and reading articles and working and thinking, desperately, about writing. And sometimes I was reading fanfic. I never quite got the handle on being social because, you know, staying at my desk or in bed and wearing sweatpants and watching Doctor Who or reading a book just sounded so much nicer than going up ONE WHOLE FLIGHT of stairs to see my friends. I didn't really do parties or talk to anyone who I wasn't introduced to. I worried a lot about my family and my brother because my brother was going to have to be left alone sometimes and my dad wasn't going to have me around to help with my brother who, to be honest, is sometimes a handful.

And then there was Levi. Adorable, sweet, understanding Levi. He's one of the most realistic love interests I've ever seen. Everything about those two was slowly paced and awkward and he was so not perfect, but he was very much perfect for Cath. And that's the important part. And as much as I've talked about loving certain bookish guys and how they'd be so perfect, Levi's the kind of guy I could actually see myself with. Someone who'd get the family dynamic and the insecurity and the dislike of social interactions and who would walk me home from my night classes (though, a park in Harlem isn't exactly the same kind of walk that Levi and Cath had to make). Plus, Rainbow Rowell has this incredible ability to make even the most mundane actions seem hotter than sex scenes I've read.

And this story itself is just so damned relatable. Cath's struggles in her personal life and as a writer are relatable to every person on the planet. She didn't know who she was. She was in a completely new environment without the two people she's relied on for years to support her, with one even changing completely. And she's being pushed to abandon a world that she knows and that has treated her well. And that's hard. No matter who you are or how old you are or what the circumstances are or what the environment is. It's hard. And Cath's path was one of the most realistic and relatable and well timed paths I've ever had the honor to read.

Maybe it's because I'm taking a Jane Austen class this semester and therefore studying her a lot, but I also think Rainbow Rowell shares a good bit in common with Austen, which is probably one of the highest compliments I could ever give. They have very different voices and ways of writing, but they both tackle people, real people in real situations and they understand people in a way so many others can't grasp and in a way that it's hard to wrap your head around. Nobody in her stories is ever simple or evil or horribly wrong. They're all vast, complex people in complex relationships and normal situations that are complex by the nature that life is complex, not because there's evil or a mythological aspect or because something totally extraordinary is happening. It's just Cath's life, which has similarities to so many other lives.

I love this book with every fiber of my being. I've been itching to reread since I put it down and I don't think I'll be able to hold off much longer, even if I'm already alternating between three books for classes and have other responsibilities. Fangirl is to College Julie as Harry Potter is to Middle School Julie. I will love in unconditionally and forever and I will never fully be able to explain why. But I desperately, desperately, want everyone to read this book, even if you don't all love it as I do.

--Julie

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the background on your experience. I was never as involved in fanfic (very briefly on the outskirts) but those parts still really resonated with me.

    I also really love this line as I wholeheartedly agree (and I saw that in E&P as well): "Plus, Rainbow Rowell has this incredible ability to make even the most mundane actions seem hotter than sex scenes I've read."

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