Book Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Published by Macmillan on 2013-09-10
Genres: Girls & Women, School & Education, Young Adult
Pages: 448
Format: eBook

A coming-of-age tale of fanfiction, family and first love

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.

My Review:

I’m in two camps when it comes to Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl.  First, I absolutely, “five-star” loved this book due to its setting and the description of Lincoln/Omaha area – in fact, Rowell’s heart is definitely in Nebraska and that’s why I’m drawn to her storytelling as much as I am.  On the other hand, there were several elements of Fangirl that I really struggled with.  So I’m going to flesh out each of these camps and leave it to you to decide if you want to pick this one up.

First, the good stuff.  Rowell completely incorporates the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus into her storytelling.  The descriptions of downtown Lincoln, of campus and the buildings (Yes, we do have Love Library and yes there is a strange breeze down in its depths), the dorms (I’ve eaten in Selleck many a time – both this year as well as back in the 90’s), and the atmosphere (it’s Nebraska, there are a lot of white people on campus).  But she does’t stop there.  Cather (Willa Cather, notable Nebraska author) is a celebrated name on campus and also one of the dorm names – and Rainbow makes her the protagonist of Fangirl.  Then there’s Abel (also a dorm on campus), the long-distance “boyfriend” to Cather.  Sprinkled throughout the pages of Fangirl is, ultimately, an ode to the school and to life in Lincoln, NE – and being a student at UNL currently, one who is frequently in Andrews Hall (getting an M.A. in English Lit will do that to you), I felt like I was roaming the campus while away from it on Christmas break.   The only glaring thing that was missing was the presence of the Cornhuskers, although there is a nod to gameday in the pages which I appreciated.  (Seriously, even East Campus gets some love here!)

If you’ve never been to Lincoln, NE or seen the UNL campus, Rowell nails it, basically.  Except for the walking to Valentino’s thing – I don’t know of one within walking distance of City Campus (well, there’s a small one, but no buffet there anymore).  Oh! And the cheeseburger pizza?  It’s a thing here.  But where were the Runza references?

So, now that I’ve gone through all of that, let’s talk about the actual story.  First of all, flat out, I’m going to say I hated the fanfic parts.  I wasn’t interested in the story there, the resemblance to Harry Potter and Twilight (or a mix of the two) was really strong and I just wasn’t interested in reading it.  This means that there were huge sections of the book that I just skimmed pretty much.   I did appreciate, however, the distinction made to Cather about writing from her own experience and writing using the “borrowing” of another authors world and characters.  I don’t read fan-fiction, not because I have a moral issue with it, but because I don’t think anyone can truly capture what it is to live in the world except for the author who created it.

As for Cather, as a character, she seemed just… weak to me.  I get that Rowell was trying to show two sides of the same coin with the twin girls and the fall-out from a mother who abandoned them, but that story really struggled under the weight of the romance and the fan-fiction and the plethora of Simon Snow references.  I got, very early on, that Cather was a Simon Snow fan, but still all the way through the book the proof of that kept being described.  Instead, I wanted to see the mental health issues being addressed, because every member of that family had them.  I wanted to see more of a support system being built and, with access to a place like UNL, see even some of the benefits of being a student being worked into the story (there is a great counseling center right on campus as well as numerous groups that can provide support).  Instead, we got just a taste of how the bad stuff can get out of control and then a quick, band-aid fix that really didn’t provide much closure.

I think, primarily, I kept reading this book because it reminded me of my now-home.  I loved seeing places I adore referenced in the pages of a book and knowing that there are so many people out there also reading about that place.  Lincoln doesn’t get enough credit – it’s a great little city and the UNL campus is a beautiful one.  I just wish the rest of the story had held up to scrutiny.

Check out these reviews!

  • “In short, Fangirl is gold in a sea of literature these days. It’s exactly the sort of book that you hope to – pardon the pun – fangirl over when you pick up a Young Adult novel.” –  Mugglenet.com
  • “The worst part of this book is that it ended. It’s not that anything was unresolved, it was perfect to the last word.” – Cuddlebuggery
  • “This book made all the emotional tingles and the sniffly reading and the big sighs happen for me as a reader.” – Smart Bitches, Trashy Books

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