Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Book Review: Fangirl

Rating: 5/5

Everywhere I looked - Tumblr, Goodreads, and bookstores alike - this book made its presence known.  After reading the synopsis, I immediately fell for the charm of this quirky yet honest coming of age story.  I had read Rowell's other popular novel, Eleanor & Park, last Spring for my Young Adult Literature class and loved it, so I couldn't wait to pick up this next book by her.  Plus, it just looked too cute to pass up, between the story revolving around fan fiction and the book's eye-catching cover.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell 

The story focuses on Cath, a girl who is a die-hard Simon Snow fan and devotes her whole life and her writing to Simon Snow (okay, so think of Simon Snow as a sort of Harry Potter-Twilight hybrid).  At first, writing fan fiction was something Cath and her twin sister Wren did together, bonding over sharing story ideas, passing the keyboard from one to the other.  But now, it's become something so much more.  Cath, or "Magicath" as she's known on FanFixx.net, has a large following of devoted readers who anxiously await for her next post, for the next chapter in her full-length fan fiction, "Carry On, Simon."  But things are changing, too quickly for Cath's liking.  She and Wren are starting their Freshmen year of college, and Wren has every intention of setting herself apart from Cath so as to have her own experiences.  Cath has always relied on Wren.  The cool thing about having a twin is its "built-in best friend feature."  Now that Cath is on her own, she's finding it hard to fit in at college, feeling that a part of her is missing.  Along with struggling to keep her eccentric and depressed father together, a Fiction Writing class that requires her to create her own worlds when all she wants to write about is Simon Snow, and developing her own crush, Cath is finding it hard to keep everything together.  For so long, the world of fan fiction and Simon Snow has been there to hold her steady, but even that is beginning to fall by the wayside as she tries to balance all these challenges in her life while still finishing Carry On in time.

Honestly, I adored Eleanor & Park, but after reading this, Rowell far exceeded my expectations.  What I loved most about Fangirl is how much I was able to connect with it on a personal level.  And by that I mean, I felt that Cath and I were almost the same person.  Being in college now and continuing to struggle with fitting in as an introvert who naturally gravitates more towards staying in her room writing blog posts (eh hem) or reading a good book, I could identify so much with Cath's own college experience.  Seriously, it's crazy how similar our experiences are.  Staying in your room?  Yep.  Excruciating awkward silence with your roommate?  Uh-huh.  Developing crushes on cute guys when you have the experience of a middle schooler?  YES.  Cath's character and her experiences are lovable.  But I think I also needed this story at this time in my life.  It's always so reassuring to pick up a book and be able to connect so deeply with the protagonist's own story, as if it is your own.  There are few times when this has happened in my life, and I feel blessed that Fangirl has been able to do that for me.  Aside from that, there were so many aspects of this story that made this a stand-out novel, and not merely a cute YA love story as it appears on the surface.

The Not-So-Great (Warning: SPOILERS!)

Okay, with all of that said, this book was so, SO close to being a five-star on my Goodreads!  However, towards the end of the novel, I felt that the story was beginning to decline a bit.  Maybe I was getting jealous that Cath's love life was turning out better than mine.  Who knows?  But I'd like to think it was more than that.  I loved Levi at first.  I really did!  I thought he was a great character and had my heart set on him and Cath being together from the start.  But the trouble for me started when Cath caught Levi kissing another girl at a party (this being before they officially got together, when Cath was still just crushing on him).  It broke my heart for Cath to see that, and it's yet another thing I find I can relate to with Cath, having experienced this heartache in my own life.  Eventually, Cath did confront him.  Good for her!  But, gah... Levi gave the most pathetic excuses for his behavior, which really disappointed me, having really liked his character up to this point.  His excuses were something along the lines of, "You weren't there.  She was there, she liked me, so we kissed and it was nothing."  REALLY?  Cath has to physically be there to stop you from kissing other girls?  To me, if Levi really liked Cath, he wouldn't have done that to her, whether she was at the party or not.  It really puts his feelings for her into question and doesn't portray him in a good light. It was after this point in the story that Levi started to show other questionable characteristics that were just plain sexist. I can't remember the specifics, but they were along the lines of girls do laundry/stay in the kitchen while I do nothing.  I kid you not.  My love for Levi's character quickly fell after that and he just came across as lazy and a bit of a man-slut.  Don't get me wrong, I do still love him with Cath and I think they really compliment each other.  The latter part of the novel just really changed how I felt about him.  He's like that lovable guy friend who does or says something every now and then that makes you roll your eyes into the back of your head.  

I feel the need to mention, too, that it wasn't just Levi that changed my feelings towards the story.  In the beginning, I appreciated how Cath was a relatable character, not just for me, but I'm sure for so many others.  But I felt that her character changed a bit after being with Levi.  Don't get me wrong.  I'm all for characters finally getting their happy ending and kissing their love interests in the end.  For me, though, I felt that Cath lost a bit of the spark she had as a character earlier in the novel and traded in for this coy, boy-crazed version.  This is especially made clear when her and Levi share a super sexy, passionate makeout scene and the book goes on and on and on about how Cath kisses Levi's neck.  Hey, maybe that's just Rowell's way of incorporating fan fiction into Cath's real life!  But still, it seemed a big cheap.  I felt that the novel lost some of its quality that it had started out with and had quickly fallen to the stereotype of being yet another YA novel with hot make-out sessions.  

The Bottom Line:
Overall, I thought Fangirl was a fantastic YA novel.  It was the perfect blend of cute, witty, and quirky, while still having moments that shake you to the core and bring you back to reality.  It's a book that so many will be able to relate with, whether you're a fangirl, a fan-fic writer yourself, or someone like Cath who finds the world of books far safer and easier than her own.  

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