“Real life was something happening in her peripheral vision”: ‘Fangirl’ by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirling over Fangirl by Rainbow RowellHappy endings are underrated. I think I’ve become so accustomed to reading novels with ambiguous or bittersweet endings that a wholly joyous ending has become something of a novelty. Fangirl was the third Rainbow Rowell novel I read in under two weeks and it left me in a happiness bubble that even Atlanta traffic failed to burst.

I’d heard a lot about Rainbow Rowell all of last year and I absent-mindedly added her books to my horrifyingly long “to-read” list knowing that the likelihood of me finally getting around to reading anything by her was slim to none. However, I accidentally clicked on Attachments on my e-reader one day and I gorged myself on all three of her novels (reviews to come).

Fangirl is her latest novel and it tells the story of identical twin sisters Cath and Wren who have just left home for the first time to attend the University of Nebraska. Used to doing everything together with Wren, Cath’s world is turned upside down when Wren decides not to share a room with Cath their freshman year. Cath actively tries to avoid any social interactions and decides to focus on writing her fan fiction about Simon Snow (a clear stand-in for the Harry Potter series). Saddled with an upperclassman roommate who refuses to allow her to be a total recluse, Cath also builds a fledgling friendship with the popular and outgoing Levi. While Wren is off making the most of her first year of college, Cath immerses herself in the world of Simon Snow and appoints herself as the protector of her single father.

“So why aren’t you living with your sister?”

“She wanted to meet new people,” Cath said.

“You make it sound like she broke up with you.” 

– Rainbow Rowell, Fangirl

Rainbow Rowell’s characterisation is fantastic and as cliched as it sounds, her characters seem like real people. They are as imperfect as you and me and you’ll be able to recognise somebody you know in each and every one of them. I also loved the fact that she was unafraid to have a character like Levi who didn’t have a dark and terrible past, family issues, and who didn’t fit the usual “heartthrob” mould. Sometimes people really are just “normal” and “good” and it was refreshing to see a character like Levi in an ostensibly YA novel. So many newer YA novels have male characters who are damaged and need “saving” or who are borderline emotionally abusive to the female protagonists that it was a wonderful surprise to have such an uncomplicated character.

Having said this, I hesitate to class Fangirl as a Young Adult novel. Yes, it has characters that fit this demographic but it’s in the more in the vein of a classic Bildungsroman. Rowell addresses many of the fears of young adults and introduces quite heavy themes without beating the reader over the head with them. I guess it really does fit into the “New Adult” category.

Although I’m not a huge fan of the whole fan fiction phenomenon, I like that Rowell introduced the sub-genre in a non-judgmental and fun way. It’s an opportunity to address some of the issues people have with fan-fiction and it was very neatly done. The only negative I can think of about the books is that Rowell intersperses real Simon Snow fan fiction into the novel and while it was perfectly enjoyable for the majority of the time, some pieces just ran on for far too long in my opinion. 

I immensely enjoyed my time with these characters and I finished the novel feeling genuinely happy. You can’t ask for much more than that can you?

Rating: 9/10