Book Review: “Fangirl” by Rainbow Rowell

Warning: This book review contains spoilers for “Fangirl” by Rainbow Rowell. If you want to avoid spoilers, this is not the review to read.

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Cover of “Fangirl” by Rainbow Rowell.

I’m back with another book review, and this time I’m reviewing “Fangirl” by Rainbow Rowell! I previously reviewed “Eleanor & Park” by the same author, so I was interested in picking up this one—especially since the main character writes fanfiction (something I heavily relate to, since I also write fanfiction). Here’s a summary so we know what it’s about:

“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? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?”

Plot Development: 2 out of 5 stars

Because the book is so character-driven, I feel like the book lacks a plot. I have no idea what direction the characters are moving towards or what their ultimate goals are, if they have any at all. The only real movement they have is from point A to point B to further the story along, all because something happens they just happen to react to it. Because of this, if you don’t happen to fall in love with the characters early on, the story doesn’t work as a whole, and that’s what I felt when reading this book.

Instead of a core main plot that strung things along, I felt that this book was an amalgamation of sideplots (Wren’s drinking issues, whether the mom Laura should come back into the family’s lives after she left them in a bad state, etc.). Sometimes, this can potentially work, especially if this is a filler novel inbetween two novels in a series so it allows for character development. However, this is a standalone story as is (save for the Simon Snow spin-offs Rowell has written), so it definitely doesn’t work as well here, and so the whole story feels a bit aimless, as a result.

Character Development: 3 out of 5 stars

I found it hard to sympathize with Cath at times, throughout the book—namely her actions of submitting fanfiction to her professor for her assignment. Being a fanfiction writer myself, I can attest to the rule that you should never, ever, do such a thing without asking the professor beforehand. She could’ve been in worse trouble than getting an F and a stern warning/argument because she neglected to think of what her prof might think of fanfiction before submitting. I also didn’t enjoy how she behaved with her soon-ex-boyfriend, Abel. It honestly sounds like the relationship fell apart due to lack of communication on both ends, but especially on Cath’s end as well as how her sister mentions how Cath treats Abel. I also thought the way she thought about boys about a third of the time was…disturbing, in a way that I can’t quite put into words.

However, I did find that some of her other actions made more sense in context; for example, how she initially rejects the idea of talking to her mother again,  due to the psychological and emotional pain it brought her, Wren, and their father after said mother left them at a young age. I also thought Cath’s social phobias was one of the strongest parts of the book and her character development. Cath is painfully shy and awkward, not in a cute way, but in a painfully brutal way that makes ordinary social interactions uncomfortable and it shows how bad the anxiety she has with socializing with others affects her really well.

I also enjoyed reading most if not all the Simon Snow-related excerpts, as I thought it was a good way to introduce me to Cath’s fandom and her love of it. However, I do think there should have been more focus on Cath trying to create her own fiction, especially since this becomes an important plot point by three-quarters through the book despite reading nothing that counts as original fiction from Cath at this point. Yes, I understand her love of fanfiction, but I would’ve loved to read more of her struggling to create her own works and read excerpts of the original fiction to write other than just the one at the end of the book, so I can compare it to all the Simon Snow-related excerpts and see how her original fiction improves and changes over time in her class.

As for other characters, Abel is treated like how Cath treats him; like an afterthought. We only hear from him once (and it’s over the phone) to cement their breakup and then we never hear of him again. Levi and Nick are two other potential romance interests (much more Levi than Nick in this case), and Nick somehow drops out of the overall story by the halfway point and we don’t really hear from him again except for one chapter, which is unfortunate, while Levi…gives me mixed feelings (see the Romance Development section for details).

Reagan was a mixed bag for me. I liked how she tried to get Cath out of her shell (not in the best way, at times, but still) and I liked how she tried to be supportive of Cath and Levi’s relationship despite her being his ex-girlfriend. However, her cheating on Levi as well as her sometimes-too-harsh antics did make me annoyed as a reader. Wren, Cath’s twin sister, and Cath’s dad also are a mixed bag of personalities for me in terms of liking them. I didn’t really like Wren much by the end of the book. I understood her  wanting to be more independent, but please, listen to your dad in regards to your drinking (especially if one got alcohol poisoning from constant partying and drinking entirely, which is Wren’s entire main plotline). The dad, meanwhile, has his own plotline of working through trying to be a better parent and take better care of himself. Though his development is slow, it’s very much there (especially after Wren gets alcohol poisoning). Laura, the mom that left the family, makes a few appearances but it’s hard to sympathize with her side of the situation when she keeps literally running away after confronting Cath for a few moments.

Romance Development: 1.5 out of 5 stars

I already talked at length enough about Cath and Abel’s relationship, but things start getting odd when Levi and Cath start developing a romance with each other. The development felt very sudden for me, as a reader, and I just didn’t feel much chemistry between Levi and Cath overall, hence me rating it so low.

Worldbuilding Development: 3 out of 5 stars

Here’s the thing: I know it seems strange for me to write this in for a book that takes place during the present time, but this is purely in here to describe how well-fleshed-out the Simon Snow parts of the book are. The good news is, the reader does get a decent explanation to get the gist of what the Simon Snow franchise is about (basically it’s a version of Harry Potter), and we do hear a lot of love about it from Cath, our main heroine, and the fictional characters she ships (Simon and Baz). On those standpoints, I thought it was pretty solid.

However, there isn’t a huge, obvious fandom surrounding it in the book despite the claims of how widely popular it is. Sure, people know about it (including the English prof, so we have the sense that it’s well-known among different age demographic groups), but there are no obvious visible fan communities for Simon Snow (so there are barely any fan conventions, or cosplay, etc.) other than what is shown when Cath goes online, or whenever she meets one or two fellow fans by accident. Because of how widely popular the book claims this series is within the world of the story, I was hoping that the Simon Snow fandom would play a bigger part than depicted in this book, so I was let down by the lack of it.

Overall, I’m rating this book 3 out of 5 stars! 

It’s not perfect, but for anyone interested in reading a fanfiction- writer protagonist or wanting to read some interweaving plotlines, this may be the book for you.

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