Book review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

In these days of Tumblr and Twitter and all the rest, being a fan of something or someone is very different from what it was 20 years ago.

Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl explores fandom, using its central character Cath. Heading to college, Cath’s twin Wren tells her she wants to share a room with someone else. Introvert Cath finds herself rooming with tough girl Reagan, whose boyfriend Levi is always around.

Feeling lonely, Cath continues to immerse herself in the world of Simon Snow, the central character in author Gemma T. Leslie’s fantasy book series. Because in that world, Cath isn’t a scared teenager, she’s Magicath, awesome fanfiction writer with a following of thousands.

Cath is a wonderful character, who embodies so many of the things that many teenagers feel when they’re heading away from home for the first time – unsure of their place at college, scared about making new friends, trying to find a balance between work and play. And while we don’t see much of her, Wren embodies other characteristics of teenagers heading off to college – determined to throw themselves into the experience, shedding everything that’s come before and reinventing yourself anew. Put them together, and Rowell has the college-bound teenager covered, the parents left behind when children leave home.

That’s not to say Cath and Wren are half characters. Not at all. They’re both relatable, although we see much more of Cath than we do of Wren, and when we do see the latter it’s through Cath’s eyes. Other characters are recognisable without being stereotypical – the professor who really helps you and inspires you (although maybe not both all the time), the dormmate you’re unsure of, the people of the opposite sex you encounter and whose motives you’re unsure of.

But for me, what I loved most about Fangirl was its examination of fandom and of fanfiction. The chapters are interspersed with extracts from Cath’s Simon Snow fanfiction, or from the Simon Snow books themselves, which are hilarious versions of Harry Potter featuring vampires – Rowell isn’t afraid to poke fun at aspects of massive selling novels.

Conversely, Rowell doesn’t treat fandom or fanfiction with contempt, or look down on it, in Fangirl, and I think that’s important, and brave. It’s all too easy to dismiss fandom, but these communities of fans are full of creative, intelligent people whose outlet might be drawing or writing about their favourite things. Sure, some might take it too far, but for others it’s a springboard into something else, or a way of finding themselves, and that’s what Rowell makes it for Cath in Fangirl.

I really, really loved this book and could go on for ages about all the things I thought really worked. Just my discussion on fandom in relation to Fangirl would fill an essay, but I think it’s better if you pick up the novel yourself and give it a read. Now I’m off to find a Tumblr group for fans of Fangirl

How I got this book: Borrowed from a friend

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