The short: 4/5 ✦. A effortlessly well-written slice-of-life novel about dealing with the unknown, the familiar, the new, the old, and everything and everyone in between.
It’s weird reading a book like this. A book that reflects my own life. A book that has characters that seem like actual people that I know. A book with protagonist who could be me.
If I wrote fanfiction, of course.
Fangirl isn’t without its flaws. There’s a lot that’s just too convenient, too predictable, too perfect. I knew from the instant Levi was introduced that he would be Cath’s love interest, even before she did (the romance stuff is fortunately more on the subtle side). And I knew that Wren would end up being more trouble than Cath would be prepared for.
But I didn’t know how prevalent Simon Snow would be. The funniest thing about this book-in-a-book is that it is very obviously a Harry Potter expy (“ripoff” is too harsh, especially since it’s so self-aware), and yet Harry Potter also exists in that universe, as well as Twilight, so GTL probably has some plagiarism issues to clear up, and that’s just hilarious to think about.
I also didn’t know how realistic it would be in terms of family life and dating and college and social anxiety. I can’t speak for Rowell, but if she didn’t/doesn’t face such issues herself, then she at least has an excellent grasp on what it feels like.
It’s not hard to understand why Fangirl is so popular; it speaks to a very specific and yet very prominent crowd of shy bookworms who would rather stay at home to read than even go within 100 yards of the idea of a party. And it works especially well because Cath feels like a real person, not an odd representation of someone’s perception of what a shy person is. There’s no “let down thine hair and dance” moment, there’s no “converting” Cath to be more outgoing and “fun,” and there’s also no condemnation for girls who do like to do those things. Reagan is Cath’s near-opposite, both in personality and looks and actions, but the book doesn’t shame her in anyway about it. Everybody’s different – and that’s okay.
Besides not being an Internet-famous fanfiction writer, I share many characteristics with Cath, and it was peculiar to have someone so like me reflected in a book. You’d think there’d be no shortage of bespectacled introverted bookworms with parental issues, but something always happens in the plot to change them – obstinately for the better – and then they stop being like me and start being . . . well, someone else. Which is fine, I guess, and that’s not to say I haven’t changed and matured myself over the years (thankfully). Thanks to the gentle (sometimes forceful) encouragement of my friends, I actually like parties now (not wild frat parties, though). I like being with people. I like talking and laughing and going to new places. I like breaking routine or taking the time to drive a friend 60 miles to the airport or eating at an IHOP at two in the morning. Socializing can be exhausting, sure, but I do it and enjoy it and I’ve never regretted a moment. Even when I screw up, I always end up learning something new about myself.
But I’m still me. I’m still insecure and embarrassed and cry too easily and get anxious and feel disappointed in myself when I do say no to a thing. And I’d still rather listen than talk. I like taking things slow. I appreciate my family and close friends and books and video games and writing and movies and TV and staying up all night texting my boyfriend silly memes. I’m still a homebody and proud of it. Like every other human being, I’m complex and confusing and annoying and wonderful in my own way (and that may be self-aggrandizing, but sometimes you just need to tell yourself that; I think everyone should).
Cath isn’t without flaws, nor are any of the other characters (her dad is the most in-depth, though, IMHO). They twinge just on the side of stereotypes, but they at least own up to their mistakes. They’re aware of their shortcomings, and the book makes it clear that these are slice-of-life people, not heroes to be emulated. Levi is amazing, but not so much that you think, “Well, I’ll never find one for myself.” (Seriously, though, your significant other should always treat you with respect, that’s the most important thing!)
As contemporary fiction, I do fear this will not age well. The references are too worldly, too specific for this book to work its magic in any other time. And yet, Rowell’s writing is so effortless, so plucked from life, that maybe it’ll be enough for Fangirl to carry on (pun intended) through to new generations. As of 2016, I highly recommend it.
Header image: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, published September 10th 2013 by St. Martin’s Griffin.