Written by Lauryn Smith and Beth Winters
Harry Potter is to ‘90s kids everywhere what Simon Snow is to Cath and her peers in Rainbow Rowell’s novel “Fangirl.” Cath takes her fandom to the extreme. Simon Snow T-shirts. Simon Snow posters. Simon Snow busts. She even goes so far as to write Simon Snow fan fiction—and she is good at it. Cath’s fanaticism began as a child, when her mother left the family, leaving Cath and her twin sister behind. Now in college, Cath must deal with the trials and tribulations, both old and new, that compose her life. See our thoughts on Rowell’s novel below!
Did you like “Fangirl”? Why or why not?
LS “Fangirl” is definitely a quick read. Sometimes you need a story that does not require a lot of analyzing, and I like “Fangirl” for that reason. Rowell’s novel is void of any hugely remarkable facets. There are no twists, turns or “please tell me what happens next” moments, so it is does not really keep you at the edge of your seat. Rowell tells the story smoothly, and the book is interesting in terms of character development. That said, the story is lacking when it comes to substance. Cath’s college experience seems more like an idealized high school experience. For instance, the difficulties Cath experiences are exemplified lightly and given little acknowledgement. Do we really learn anything regarding how Cath felt when her mother left? Not really. We eventually learn how Cath perceives the situation in retrospect, yet we do not feel the consequences. How does that life-altering event relate to Cath’s love of Simon Snow? Such elaboration would have benefitted Rowell’s story. Maybe such gaps are intentionally left open because Rowell intends the story be geared toward twins or people who can relate to Cath’s apprehensive personality. Or, maybe they are left open to avoid complication, as the book's genre is YA fiction.
BW I love “Fangirl.” It is one of the few books that gives a realistic depiction of what it is like for someone with Cath’s personality to start college. I can relate to Cath—I am a twin, and my sister and I went to different colleges. From my point of view, Cath’s character is spot on, especially in terms of her reaction to the awkward experience of adjusting to college life while separated from her built-in best friend. All the same, there are parts of the novel that are not fleshed out enough, leaving me wanting to know about things more deeply. For example, Cath gradually becomes good friends with her wild roommate; Rowell could have gone much deeper into that relationship but instead presents only the surface level. “Fangirl” is a fast read, and it is definitely a go-to if you need a quick pick-me-up. I wish “Fangirl” had an actual sequel—I would like to know what happens to these characters next. Regardless, I am looking forward to reading about the Harry Potter-like characters of the Simon Snow universe in Rowell’s upcoming book “Carry On.”
How did you experience the book? Were you engaged immediately, or did it take a while?
LS I will give Rowell this—the characters are immediately engaging. Rowell tells a widely universal tale, namely that of the college experience. What makes “Fangirl” intriguing, though, is that it presents a version of the college experience that is often invisible—that of an extreme introvert. Rowell’s choice to make such a character the protagonist is interesting. She does a good job illustrating Cath’s demeanor. Although I consider myself an introvert, I cannot relate much to Cath... but I can empathize with her. Despite the success of the characterization, the novel’s plot is essentially nonexistent, which detracts from its charm. The story covers exactly one year and is told chronologically, beginning with Cath and her sister moving in to their separate college dorm rooms and culminating with the end of their freshman year. But nothing happens. Where is the climax? Is the conclusion simply that Cath survived a year at school? The book lacks a thrill factor. In the end, it is difficult to discern its point.
BW I was immediately engaged. Having grown up with the phenomenon that is Harry Potter, this book, with its focus on the fictional "Simon Snow" series, immediately captured my attention. I am also drawn to the book’s characters, as I find their situations very relatable. I essentially was Cath during my first year of college. I read a lot and did not have many friends, but as time went on, that changed, just like it does for Cath. I initially read this book during that part of my college experience, so seeing a character experience exactly what was going in my life immediately sparked my interest. Four years and a reread later, I am still engaged in Cath’s world and feelings.
How realistic is the characterization?
LS When taken by itself, the characterization is quite realistic. Most people are acqainted with individuals who are extreme extroverts, extreme introverts and those who fall somewhere along that spectrum, and Rowell presents this variety of traits in her characters. I am not sure about the realism of the characters' actions, though. For instance, would someone like Cath, usually so concerned about grades, lackadaisically decide (twice!) not to complete a college course? Then have influential others vouch for him or her? Then much later finish that course in such high standing that his or her work gets published? Maybe… But Rowell could have expanded on the logic of such outcomes so as to enhance plausibility. Perhaps she might have clarified why Cath made the decision not to finish her final paper instead of merely relaying that she did not feel like it, as well as exactly what it was that resulted in Cath's ultimate public achievements.
BW The characterization is very realistic. The minute I started reading “Fangirl,” I felt like one of the characters. As I read, I caught myself wondering more than once if Rowell simply wrote the story based on things that happened in my own life—especially the parts regarding college. It really is crazy how true these characters are to those in my life, though in terms of their personalities rather than their actions and other defining qualities. Still, Rowell plays up the twins’ differences a lot. She presents them as the stereotypical good twin/bad twin combination. I understand why Rowell did this, namely to show that twins are not always exactly the same, but I would have liked more explanation of the girls’ backgrounds to help understand why Cath ended up the “good twin” and her sister the “bad twin.”
What part or parts of the story would you change?
LS There is one glaring plot point that I feel Rowell was remiss not to flesh out. From the start, readers understand Cath’s aversion to social interaction and her affinity for Simon Snow. Then halfway though the novel, Cath meets a fellow fangirl, one who unabashedly talks about her love of Simon Snow fan fiction. The two talk awhile about their common interest, but this secondary character never appears again. Why couldn’t she and Cath be friends? Why does this character only warrant a page or two? I do not believe that Cath is so standoffish that she would not make some sort of effort to reach out to such a relatable and accessible potential friend. Another point is that the similarity between Simon Snow and Harry Potter is a little off-putting. Rowell’s Simon Snow excerpts lack ingenuity, following J.K. Rowling’s series quite closely. Wizards, magic school and evil enemies, anyone? It will be interesting to see how Rowell’s follow up novel “Carry On,” which focuses on the Simon Snow cast, will perform and how much of it will reflect Rowling’s material. (If it closely follows Harry Potter’s story, this would fall into the realm of monetized fan fiction.)
BW I would not change the story at all. Everything that happens is necessary, driving the characters and their actions. If anything was taken out, the story would not be as compelling or rich. Sure, there are some plot holes, but readers can fill them using their imaginations.
Did the book give you any new ideas about yourself?
LS I cannot say I leaned anything new about myself or the world. However, “Fangirl” serves as a reminder not to judge others, to understand that there are myraid factors that affect people's mental status and their physical well-being, as well as how they interact with others.
BW The book did not give me any new ideas about myself, but I am still amazed at how true to my life some of the situations are.
Would you recommend this book? To whom?
LS This book is good for students and recent graduates, audiences that will likely find “Fangirl” relatable (at least in some respects) and might find some comfort in the way Rowell presents the world she explores. Just prepare to be a touch disappointed with the book’s lack of satisfying resolutions.
BW I would recommend this book to EVERYONE!!!!
Some questions courtesy of LitLovers
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication date: September 10, 2013
Page count: 448
List price: $18.99
Nominations: 2013 Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Young Adult Fiction; 2014 Premio El Templo de las Mil Puertas Nominee for Mejor novela extranjera independiente; 2015 Milwaukee County Teen Book Award Nominee; 2015 Inky Awards Nominee for Silver Inky
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