Book Review: Rainbow Rowell’s “Fangirl”

 

Fandom fascinates me.

It’s not just a general ‘hey I like nerdy things!’ sentiment (even if I do like nerdy things). Rather, I approach things from a sociological perspective. When I see a ‘true fan’s’ rapturous reaction to their chosen obsession, I can’t help but ask “what is it that makes them feel this way?” Maybe I’m somehow craving something that could get me that excited.

(Note: there are actually quite a few things I will get super-excited and geek out on, though I rarely get the chance. Things like: Final Fantasy VI, Mass Effect, The Room, Ska, Steven Universe, Streets of Fire, Scooby Doo: Mystery Inc, The Protomen, A Better Tomorrow II, St. Louis Punk-Bluegrass, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Solomon Kane, Adventure Time, nWoD: Accord, and Stag Beer, to name a few).

Alternately, part of it might be that I enjoy looking at certain fandoms from the outside, and thus use it as a mirror to my own aforementioned interests. It’s an opportunity to ask “Is this what I sound like to normal people?”

Anyway, it’s this interest (along with a review on Tor.com) that put Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl on my radar.

Fangirl is about Cath, a neurotic 18 year old, well, fangirl, and how she deals with her first year at college. She has to deal with the standard challenges of college life: her bitchy roomate Reagan, her binge-drinking twin sister Wren, boys, drinking, hard-assed professors, parties, etc. However, what makes Cath different from uncounted other Young Adult heroines is the fact that she writes fanfiction. Lots of fanfiction. Novel length fanfiction. It’s a point of obsession for Cath, and one of the central points to her identity.

I’ll freely admit I’ve written terrible fanfic in the past, but nothing more than short-story length, and even then the stories were mostly an excuse to string a few cheap jokes together. This said, my personal philosophy on fanfic is that the best fanfic follows the set canon, and just expands on it. A continuation of the source material, y’know? It’s okay to make little twists here and there, but ignoring the source material in order to back up your own arbitrary position is silly. Call me a purist, or something.

But back to the novel! Cath’s obsesses over the “Simon Snow,” series, but these are really just a non-copyright-infringing version of the Harry Potter novels. Cath writes Simon/Baz slashfic, which is a thinly veiled version of Harry/Draco. In fact, she’s the Simon/Baz slashfic writer, to the point where she has thousands of followers hanging on to her every typed out word on her magnum opus, Carry on, Simon.

Rowell uses the fanfic theme well, with little excerpts from Cath’s fanfiction and the Simon Snow novels to mirror the action of the novels themselves. In particular, there’s a great little bit where Cath realizes that all the slashy sex scenes she’s written are absolutely nothing like actually getting it on with a real live dude. Woops!

Aside from the fanfic thing, the book plays out like a perfectly serviceable (if perhaps low stakes) romance. Honestly, if a Hollywood director could figure out how to spin the fanfic thing for a movie, I imagine this could make the basis for a rather fun little movie.

My one complaint with the novel is a matter of its focus; it’s centered on Cath and her “RL” problems. Which makes sense, but I was kind of hoping for a more in depth exploration of the fandom phenomenon. I wanted to see Cath’s interactions with her online fanbase,.I wanted to see her get into flamewars with other fanfic authors. I wanted to see her debate online over which ‘ship is the best ‘ship. Or, in the most glaring thing, the final Simon Snow novel is yet to be released at the start of the novel, and it’s not released until the end. As a result, we don’t get the chance to see how Cath’s fanfic butts up against the actual canon of the stuff she’s writing fanfic of.

Really, I wanted to see more of the fan, and less of the girl, if that makes sense.

Still, I enjoyed the read. And if there are any of you readers out there that grew up on Harry Potter fanfiction (don’t worry, I won’t judge), I’m sure you’ll get even more from this novel than I did.

Though really, I wonder if the best way to show my appreciation for this book would be to write Cath/Reagan fanfiction.

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