Note: I like in-depth reviews, from the writerly side of things, and I like positive reviews. Therefore my reviews are lengthy, full of spoilers, and only of books that I love.
The Spoiler-Free Version
I’m not sure what initially turned me off reading Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell. A few Goodreads reviews claimed that it was ‘disparaging’ towards people who wrote fanfiction, and suggested that they were immature (I found zero evidence of this in the book). But it didn’t hold much interest for me until a friend working at a geek bookstore tried to get me to buy Carry On. “It’s so good,” she gushed. “It’s about…well, it’s super meta.”
I didn’t feel like reading Carry On first. But I figured I’d try Fangirl, because hey, reading. I was very nicely surprised.
Reading Fangirl was an experience similar to eating comfort food. It was never the wrong time to read it, it went down easily, and it gave me the warm fuzzies. I expect I connected with it better than some people might do – I grew up in Colorado, which has that same midwest feel, a mix of farm and city.
Fangirl follows the story of Cath, a shut-in twin just starting college. Cath’s twin Wren has performed the twin equivalent of a we-should-see-other-people breakup, and Cath isn’t sure how to navigate the real world without her. More than that, she doesn’t really want to. She’s got a massive online following thanks to her fanfiction epic, and she’d happily spend all day churning out chapters for them. However, a fun cast of characters is determined to pull her into life at her Nebraskan college.
A lot of Fangirl is episodic, so if you want a tight, racing plot, this may not be the book for you. But the book is incredibly strong in terms of craft. The description and dialogue were perfect for me, and every sentence was compelling. The characters were mostly fun to be with, and well-rounded. I related to a lot of Cath’s experiences as well, and I appreciate that we can get a different side to college life than a focus on parties or academia.
I would recommend Fangirl overall, and especially to people looking for a light read, a slightly (but not too) nerdy story, and a male love interest that doesn’t make you want to claw your eyes out or shout, ‘abuse!’
The Spoiler Version (You’ve Been Warned)
Having just finished Fangirl (literally, I closed the book and then started this review), I’m a little muddled in this territory. I can’t figure out whether some of them were a little too tropey, or one-sided, or just the right amount of each.
Cather was sympathetic and funny, flawed and fun to read about. She was, of course, the most developed character, as the book was written in a close third person. I loved how much I could relate to Cath – I’ve had a lot of the same mentalities as her, and I’ve had some of the same experiences as her. I loved how she dealt with the various crises presented by the book, as they showed a character with both good and bad traits. I do feel that the ending came a little too easily to her, but we’ll cover that in the plot.
Levi was really great as Boyfriend Material. I am so sick of seeing these bad boys sauntering around, acting like the whole world pissed in their Cheerios and like women – or at least, the women they’re interested in – should be pushed around like chess pieces in their sick mind games. But Levi supported Cath in everything, worked to enjoy her interests, and sometimes pushed her to do better. At times Levi was too good, but for me that’s forgivable as we saw the book through Cath’s eyes, and they spent most of their time together in their honeymoon period.
Reagan was the ultimate Cool Roommate. I enjoyed her strengths, her prickly support of Cath, her brashness. She’s the type of character that’s good in small doses, and Rowell knew how to use her.
Wren was the most problematic character for me, as oftentimes it seemed she entered Cath’s life just to present her with a problem for the book to solve. Wren’s troubles ended up being about Cath and not about Wren. For example, she made the choice to pick up contact with their mother, but the book doesn’t directly show how that affects her. Later on she goes overboard on the party and drinking wagon, but that seems more like a vehicle to getting Cath and their mother in the same room together, and not a way to develop Wren on her own arc. She even corrects herself with what seems like little influence from Cath, and re-enters Cath’s life to make everything shining and beautiful again shortly thereafter.
…was fun. I felt it had the perfect balance of description, action and dialogue, never got confusing on one end or bogged down on another. And most of all, it was compelling. I almost missed my train stop both going to and coming from work because I couldn’t stand to put the book away. And in case I don’t give a compelling enough case, the tattooed Viking squashed in next to me on the train was reading over my shoulder.
…wandered a bit, in my opinion. I don’t have to have a strong plot thread, but I thought that Wren’s trip to the hospital would be the climax of the story, and then the denouement took another hundred pages. There wasn’t much conflict after that, and what was there felt a little shouldered in.
In a way, I didn’t need a strong climax or a quick pace. But I also felt like the ending wrapped things up a little too neatly. Cath falls more and more behind on Carry On, yet manages to make up with her family, finish her finals, and get the story done with no repercussions. She has an ongoing struggle with her writing professor, Piper, and the short story she’s supposed to write, yet she bangs out her ten thousand words in the middle of all this stress, after hating and hating the assignment. Not only does she presumably get her A, but her short story is selected for publication in the university’s magazine, which is supposedly a big honor. I loved virtually every part of Cath’s writing struggles and victories, but this one was a little too much for me. I guess I like keeping my endings a little bit messy.
I hope that at least some people got to the end of this post, and that you enjoyed it. All in all, Fangirl is probably one of those books that appeals to a specific audience, but boy is that audience me. I’m not sure how much I’ll like Carry On by comparison, but I’ll only find out by reading it, right?