Thursday, February 20, 2014

Book Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Source: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Standalone book
Publisher: St Martin's Griffin
Release date: 10th September 2013
Tagged under: 2014 read, contemporary, chick lit, YA-fiction, romance, 2014 favourites
Pages: 438
Buy at: Amazon

Fanfiction, College, 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, 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 fanfiction 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?

Review [Spoiler-free]

I've heard so much good things about this book that I've been dying to read it for ages. But with so many books on my currently-reading & TBR lists, I didn't get around to it until now. And oh my goodness, it's amazing. 

There are some contemporary young adult books that I read because they are light and fun. There are some I read so that I can live vicariously through the characters, knowing that my university days weren't like that but wouldn't it have been fun if they were. And then there's this book - which just gets me on so many levels that while reading it, I felt like I have been literally living a life similar to Cath's. 

Like Cath, I had to make some pretty big changes in order to attend university. I was 17 and alone in the country with my parents halfway around the other side of the world. Like Cath, I literally spent most of my high school spare times reading fiction and then, whenever the mood struck, reading and writing fanfiction. The move to university seemed daunting and there were days where all I wanted to do was go back to my room in my shared house, curl up with a good book and just ignore the rest of the world for awhile.

Cath Avery, for me, is a soul sister I never knew I had. She just feels so real. Everything she thinks and do are just so relatable. If you've ever had an awkward moment or incident in your life or if, like me, you're just socially awkward in general, then you would definitely feel like you share a kindred spirit with her too. Cath is not perfect - she freaks out sometimes, she makes bad decisions sometimes and she lets people walk over her or degrade her and her interests without retaliation. If you tell me that you've never done any of those things in your life, there is no way I would believe you. 

As I progress through this book, I literally get sucked into Cath's world and it almost feels like I'm living her every step. This is not a book filled with tension and drama yet its simplicity is part of its charm. In Fangirl, obstacles and bumps are thrown in at random - just as how life works. Things happen to Cath along the way and you observe her deal with it in her own manner. Sometimes it isn't the right way. Sometimes her decisions aren't exactly the smart ones. But then again, Cath isn't going to change magically overnight and neither are any of us. Through examining her and her life, I can't help but identify some of those similar quirks and tendencies in myself.

And the romance! I won't spoil you regarding the who, the when, the how etc. because I think this is a really good example of how good romance can be set up without a) being the entire focus of the story and b) without being insta-love that it feels like it would only happen in books. I think possibly the best word I can use to sum up Fangirl is that everything about it is just so real. You read this and bask in the feels and you know that this could happen in real life.

However, there are a couple of minor issues I did have with the book that prevented me from giving it a perfect score. While I do enjoy reading and writing fanfiction (perhaps not to the same degree of success as Cath but at times, certainly to similar degrees of enthusiasm), Cath's particular love of Simon and Baz (the two guys in her thought bubble on the front cover) is one aspect of fandoms that I still struggle to get into/comprehend. I don't have issues with it or homosexuality, but just like in Harry Potter how I fail to identify a romantic link between Sirius & Remus or Harry & Draco, I come across such fanfiction works and I just can't see how these pairings would fit into the canon universe. So when Cath went gushing about Simon and Baz, those are the only moments I felt like she was talking in a foreign language to me. But then again, that's fandom for you - you can move the characters around and play with them however you like.

While on the subject of fandom, I'm not sure I'm 100% comfortable with Rowell's depiction of what being a fangirl is. Cath's comment about how, sometimes, in some ways, she writes better than the actual author. That comment, no matter how padded it was with Cath's admiration for the author of the original work, just grates me a little bit. Another aspect was something that happened in the book with her professor who, as you can tell in the book summary, isn't a supporter of fanfiction. Without going into it in too much detail, I just can't see any professors being as lenient as Cath's.

However, these issues are such minor aspects and didn't detract from my enjoyment of this book at all.

And the ending! Everything came neatly together without being fairy tale perfect. It was absolutely heartwarming, seeing how Cath has progressed through her freshman year and grown in the process. The subtlety with which Rowell summed up everything is something I really admired about this book.

Overall: 4/5

I absolutely love this book. As soon as I finished the last page, I knew this will very likely become one of my 2014 favourites. I highly recommend this to pretty much everyone.