Friday 20 September 2013

Devouring Books: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

"'How do you not like the internet? That's like saying 'I don't like things that are convenient. And easy. I don't like having access to all of mankind's recorded discoveries at my fingertips. I don't like light. And knowledge.''"

I finished Fangirl two days after I bought it on my Kindle, and that was only because I didn't have much time to read on one of those days because, social life. That was a week ago, and I still don't know how to talk about it without squealing about how much I loved it because my GOD I really did and also have I mentioned lately that Rainbow Rowell is the actual best and I love her? Because that's about as useful as I'm going to be in this review, to be honest.

Ok, no. Actual words. So Fangirl is excellent, and it's excellent in ways that I didn't even expect it to be. If I'm honest, I expected to love it in the general way that I'm always going to love a Rainbow Rowell book (I assume!) but maybe to feel less connected to it in the way I did to, say, Attachments, or to Eleanor in Eleanor and Park because I don't really know anything about being a fangirl. Or, at least, I don't know anything about being a fangirl where I share all those thoughts with everyone on the internet- I've been pretty good at being a Les Miserables fangirl this year, for example, but that was mostly in my own brain.
Does being obsessed with one dude also count as being a fangirl? Cause if so, I get it!

BUT. Whilst I might have been expecting to be less into this book than her others, I was so completely wrong about that, and that's really all down to Rowell. Here's the deal with Fangirl- it IS about a total Fangirl (Cath- she's really really into these 'Simon Snow' books and writes fan fiction where the hero is in love with his mortal enemy- the Simon Snow books bear a striking resemblance [kind of] to the Harry Potter books, and Rowell is a fan of Harry/Draco...) but it goes so far beyond her life as a fangirl that it stays readable for, I think, even people who don't use the internet that much,* and definitely for people who wouldn't really consider themselves fangirls.

Midway update: We've established there's more to this book than the title.
I'll say some more things about it, shall I? Just as a personal thing, Fangirl really hits some of my soft spots- a 'going away to college' (or just any new situation) narrative, Cath is a TWIN and twins have kind of been my favourite since that time I read Sweet Valley High all the time**, and there's an adorable boy character. I can't be too clear on this point- Levi is FANTASTIC and I love him and I want to go live on a ranch with him and raise cattle and babies and I DON'T EVEN EAT MEAT (or babies. But that's beside the point.) Really the only disappointment I have about Fangirl is that Levi doesn't exist so I can't make him mine. Hmph.

And then, there's Cath. I love Cath. You kiiind of have to love Cath if you're going to read Fangirl, because it's all from her point of view, but I really really love her. The thing I love most about her is that, even though certain things are expected of her as a freshman in college (i.e. she's supposed to be a wild partier) she has literally no interest in bowing to the things she's 'supposed' to do, and pretty much does what she wants. And yeah, some of this comes from the anxiety disorder she's dealing with (trying to deal with) but even without that- she doesn't want to go to parties. She's not very concerned about making friends. And that's a perfectly valid choice for her to make and everyone doesn't have to be all social all the time, ok?!
And this being a Rainbow Rowell book, Cath is dealing with things apart from her anxiety that I won't tell you about because spoilers, but they bring juuust enough sadness to counteract Levi's cuteness, but not so much that I wanted to die, and THAT is the perfect amount. Also being a Rainbow Rowell book, some of the sentences were so awesome I could have cried. Seriously, here are a few:
"'The Triangle House!' Courtney said. She said it the same way you'd say 'the Playboy Mansion!' if you were a total D-bag."
"The squirrels on campus were beyond domestic; they were practically domestically abusive." 
"Levi's eyebrows were pornographic."
And just, kind of, all the rest of the words? Yes, those.

And then there are the fangirl bits, and, rather than excluding those who don't really know what fangirling is all about, they seem deliberately inclusive- since they're centred around a fictional series (that, actually, I would definitely read) it's not like a massive amount of prior knowledge is expected, AND they fit in with the plot in interesting and unexpected ways- Cath, for example, has written about love so much in her fanfiction, but is woefully unprepared when it happens to her, but it's all ok. It's about the limits of existing in a mainly fictional universe, but is always respectful of the incredible amount of work that (sometimes) goes into writing fanfiction.

It's also about a lot of other things- feeling like a fish out of water, feelings of abandonment, growing apart from a sibling, finding friendship and love in unexpected places, finding yourself and so so so many other things- and each of these things is handled so well, and with real thought and in an awesome writing style. Do I have to say it again? I LOVED this book, I would kind of have babies with it, and if you're holding off reading this because you're scared you might not like it as much as Attachments or Eleanor and Park, then DON'T BE because it's awesome. I promise you. Now go and read it. Now.

*Do these people exist? And WHAT IS WRONG WITH THEM?!
**Ages 9-15


  1. Ah, I have been waiting for this review. You liked this one a WHOLE lot more than I did, but I still found a lot to admire about it. Mostly it just made me angry with her English professor and made me want to read Harry/Draco fanfiction! I am certainly glad that you loved it though.

    1. RIGHT?? I was SO MAD AT HER PROFESSOR. Fanfic is legit, damnit, and not fricking plagiarism.

    2. Ok, guys... Look. I actually thought a LOT about the fanfiction/plagiarism thing, (and somehow forgot to mention it... Smart) and whilst I don't think fanfiction IS plagiarism, I still think it was kind of stupid of Cath to hand in some fanfiction for an assignment and expect that it wouldn't be commented on.

      To sum up my feelings- on the internet, or when it's not something you're making money off or trying to gain credit for in some way, fanfiction isn't plagiarism. But for a creative writing class where ALL your work (including world building) is supposed to be your own? It's... Sort of plagiarism. Or at least sort of... weird. I don't know, it's a grey area. (TOLD YOU I'd thought about this a lot. Doesn't mean I have a precise conclusion...)

    3. You're right: Cath SHOULD have expected some comment on it.

      BUT I think it raises an interesting question: why is writing an original plot with someone else's characters (fanfic) SO looked down upon in most circles, when the opposite, i.e. taking someone else's plot and putting in slightly different characters, is not? For example, two years ago, critically acclaimed author Margot Livesey wrote a book called The Flight of Gemma Hardy, which is a re-telling of Jane Eyre. She set it in 1960s Britain (and Iceland), and the characters' names were Jane and Rochester, but almost point for point, the plot was identical. I don't understand how that is more acceptable in literary circles. Discuss.

    4. merp. make that "the characters' names were NOT Jane and Rochester."

    5. You make an excellent point here about what's the difference if you take the characters and put them somewhere else, or take the plot and fill it with different characters? I still don't know that Gemma Hardy would have been a good thing to turn in for a fiction writing class and she'd probably still get in trouble for it, although there's less stigma attached for no reason.

      That being said, I thought Gemma Hardy was so stupid cos it was JUST Jane Eyre kinda set in modern times, sorta. And it made less sense. But that's really beside the point to the argument.

  2. "I love him and I want to go live on a ranch with him and raise cattle and babies and I DON'T EVEN EAT MEAT (or babies. But that's beside the point.)" ahahaha yay to this clarification.

    I really want to read this. I'm not looking forward to it quite as much as the others cos while I know OF the fangirl scene I don't really know it. And have only read the Harry/Draco fanfic that Emily sent over (Thanks, Emily!!) But it's Rowell so I'm pretty sure it's going to be amazing anyway and your review has really just confirmed that

    1. I do enjoy baby-eating humour. "Do you like babies?" "Yes, but I couldn't eat a whole one." Love alllll of that shit.

      See, see, but like I said, I think it very much steers away from the fangirl element of Cath's life, and is more of a 'shy, anxious, slightly misanthropic girl goes away to college and learns all the things. Also, there's some fanfiction of a series you're probably going to want to read OR you can just pretend it's Harry Potter like I did.' But that is basically how I felt about it before I read it, whereas now I'm just like YAY FANGIRL.

    2. Oh man, the other week I went out to dinner with friends at this amazing American BBQ joint and one friend ordered a shared plate (for himself) which had lamb, beef AND pork ribs - anyway, afterwards, another friend said something along the lines of "you were hungry enough to eat a baby" and when we were like whaaa? He was like "well, there was a lot of meat on that plate, but a baby is more comparable than the usual 'hungry enough to eat a horse' saying" which led to a discussion on how much babies weigh and whether he did eat as much meat as a baby, and what about the bones etc etc. Anyway, about 10 minutes into this discussion on eating babies we realised the woman at the next table was pregnant and we basically all died on the spot.

      tl;dr: check surrounding company before making baby-eating jokes.

    3. This is the best. And really, I mean, hungry enough to eat a horse, that's just ridiculous. Eating a baby or maybe a toddler? That seems more reasonable an exaggeration in terms of weight. Because if you're going to go to horse, why not just go bigger? I could eat an elephant? Or hippo. Then it's still in the horse family.

  3. Of course you love this one. Because it was my least favorite of hers thus far. I didn't NOT like it (I like all her books), but it's definitely the last on the list. Mostly because:

    "You kiiind of have to love Cath if you're going to read Fangirl, because it's all from her point of view"

    Yes. And I did not like Cath.

    She's so introverted and so grumpy and so "Ugh just leave me alone and why do you have to be the way you are and I'm just going to sit in my room" and I hated reading from her perspective.

    My favorite parts were the Harry/Draco fanfic/book excerpts, mostly because those were the most actual-fangirlish things in the book. Speaking as one of those people, this book probably appeals more to those who AREN'T. Which, to be fair, is most of the population.

    1. Alice, I feel like we've reached an important crossroads in our relationship because I THINK I GET OUR DIFFERENCES NOW. Cause essentially, I AM Cath (Sliiiightly less grumpy, maybe. But she's probably less grumpy on the internet!) so I fully get the introverted thing and the hating parties thing and YOU are very not-Cath in that you probably like other people and are an extrovert am I getting warm here?

      We have a classic introvert vs extrovert thing going on, is what I'm saying. And that's ok! Because it's the internet where people such as us can intermingle and no one gets hurt. It's awesome.

      I get your fangirl feelings. And I feel like this book is like, for people who don't really get fangirling, the title is a bit like 'meh' and then it's NOT all about that and so it's like 'YAY!' whereas if you ARE one, it's going to be like 'what else does Cath ship though?' 'why is she listening in class, shouldn't she be thinking about Simon Snow?' and stuff. Or something, I don't know the things you think! But I get how it could be disappointing in a not-necessarily-representative-of-the-whole-fangirl-experience way, is what I'm saying.

    2. THIS COULD MAKE SENSE. But then we both love Melanie and Beth. Which is where we meet.

      If someone wrote a book about a fangirl fangirling, I would be SO EXCITED. Example of fangirl culture.

  4. When I get paid this month, I'm totally going to buy this book!

    1. Do iiiiiiit! I think it's only out on the Kindle in the UK at the moment though, so... Do you have a Kindle?!

  5. Oh bollocks. *sidles off to Book Depository to order the hardback* DAMN YOU AND YOUR (IRONICALLY) FANGIRLING RAINBOW PROPAGANDA. :P

  6. I'm like Cath too, in that I have issues with anxiety, I'm shy, and would often prefer to do my own thing than join in with a big crowd of people. I think that's why I related to it so much and she didn't annoy me as a character.

    Levi is amazing. I love how patient he is with Cath and her anxiousness. The Outsiders scene--loved that. It really humanized Levi. I could go on and on. I didn't love it as much as Eleanor & Park mostly because I just didn't really click with the fangirl part of the storyline. I've never read fanfiction though I have felt invested in characters (just not to the extent of it becoming a huge part of my life like it did Cath's).

    And a big yay for Rainbow Rowell, like we were talking about on twitter. I love her writing style and she seems like such a gracious author.

  7. So this was definitely my least fave Rowell, even though I still really enjoyed it (because with things like "Levi's eyebrows were pornographic.", how can you not). But Cath wasn't relatable to me. I am ALL about being introverted and not going to parties and being slightly rude because you just want people to go away, but I think it was her panicky-ness and whiny side that I didn't like. Like really, you were going to quit school just because a teacher didn't approve of your lame-ass fanfic paper & because a boy might not like you back? LAME. And I feel like she only cheered up once Levi sucked up and they started dating, and then all of the sudden everything was okay and yeah... I don't know. I enjoyed the writing, but I had issues with Cath & Levi.

    OH, and the fanfic/Simon Snow chapters felt like filler. They didn't really addd anything to the story, I would've been perfectly happy without those parts and more of a concrete ending. (It was SO abrupt!)

  8. And I just realized how spoiler-y my comment was... LOOK AWAY, PEOPLE WHO HAVEN'T READ FANGIRL YET.