Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell

FangirlThere was a boy in her room. Cath looked at the number painted on the door, then down at the room assignment in her hand. Pound Hall, 913.

"In Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl, 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? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?"

I was not too fond of Eleanor and Park, but I'd heard good things about Fangirl, so I wanted to try Rainbow Rowell's writing again. Fangirl wasn't great, and there were a lot of elements I disliked about it, but I did really like the premise and ended up finding the book okay. I enjoyed the fact that in between chapters there's an excerpt from either a Simon Snow book or one of Cath's fanfictions. The fictional Simon Snow series is definitely modeled very much on Harry Potter, with eight books and a huge fandom, which includes Cath and Wren. 

What I didn't like about the book was the main character. There's antisocial, and then there's nuts. Cath really annoyed me; for the first month at the school she hides inside her room and doesn't go to the dining hall. Even if someone doesn't like talking to new people, even if they feel constricted, I find it really hard to believe that a person would subsist on protein bars for a month. It was crazy, absurd, and I couldn't understand how Cath could be so timid and not brave enough in a month to find the cafeteria. It was also really sad. That said, I could relate to her fears; she was just a bit too extreme to be believed, what with barely talking to her roommate for the first month, and not eating breakfast or dinner. Still, I did not like Cath at all at first, or even a whole lot as the book progressed. Of course, likable characters aren't the most important thing, but I like to have a protagonist who I can both relate to and like, somewhat. That's not to say they can't have problems; on the contrary. But Cath was so miserable and painfully shy the first month, and she didn't even try to do anything about it. It was also very odd that she was so scared of walking on the campus at night, scared enough that she would dial 911 and then run with her finger on the call button. Later, of course, all of this behavior is explained a bit, but I wish Rowell would have given us more clues early on. And what was revealed didn't make much sense.

Wren was worse. It's clear that Cath is struggling with the changes of college, yet she still insists on not having her as a roommate or even living in the same dorm building. That part didn't make sense to me. There was also another solution to their problem: that they would go to different schools. Later, Wren drifts farther and farther away from Cath, and getting drunk and into trouble, and talking with their mother who left when they were little. 

I've made the book sound terrible. It isn't. There was a certain charm to it, and as I said, the story itself was pretty good, and I loved the Simon Snow/Harry Potter element. And just like Eleanor and Park, it got better as it went on, as Cath comes out of her shell, meets new people, and expands her writing abilities with Nick, another student in her fiction writing class. Was it better than Eleanor and Park? I don't think so. Eleanor and Park was a rather sweet romance with a good ending, and Fangirl really didn't live up to my expectations despite other's rave reviews. Still, it wasn't bad, and was entertaining enough. I'm not sure if I'll be reading more of Rainbow Rowell's novels in the future though. It will definitely have to be based on plot. 

My favorite sections of Fangirl were certainly the ones where Cath was writing, thinking about her writing, and going to her writing class. Those seemed to come to life, even if some of the other parts of the book didn't, and I ended up kind of enjoying Fangirl, though not enough to really redeem it. It was insightful at times, and while I didn't like the twins, I did enjoy the other characters: Reagan, Levi, and Nick, in particular. And the book got better the more I read. It just wasn't wildly entertaining or beautiful or gripping or anything. Thanks to St. Martin's for sending me a review copy. 

435 pages. 

Rating: 2.5 stars.

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