Paperback (Pan Macmillan, 459 pages)
First published 2013; this edition published 2014
Rating on Goodreads: 5 stars
“Cath and Wren are identical twins, and until recently they did absolutely everything together. Now they’re off to university and Wren’s decided she doesn’t want to be one half of a pair any more – she wants to dance, meet boys, go to parties and let loose. It’s not so easy for Cath. She’s horribly shy and has always buried herself in the fan fiction she writes, where she always knows exactly what to say and can write a romance far more intense than anything she’s experienced in real life. Without Wren Cath is completely on her own and totally outside her comfort zone. She’s got a surly room-mate 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. Now Cath has to decide whether she’s ready to open her heart to new people and new experiences, and she’s realizing that there’s more to learn about love than she ever thought possible …”
I am Cath.
I’m sure many readers will empathise completely with her, and it was almost painful for me when I realised I suffer from the same worries and anxieties (diagnosed with social phobia last year. It’s not a fun ride, kids.). Cath is so alive even though she spends most of her time in her room (I don’t blame her, bedrooms are safe). I’ve not seen a character so painfully human in a book for years, and it is this compelling ability to make characters truly come to life that makes Fangirl stand out from the crowds of YA angst look-at-me novels.
The characters are so, so beautiful. I could cry at how wonderful Rowell’s creations are. They have failings and flaws and oh goodness they are so imperfect that it’s perfect. I love books that are character explorations, and I would definitely class Fangirl as one of those.
Alongside her struggles we see her relationship and involvement with not only people, but the world of the internet that so many teenagers will love and be familiar with, myself included. To find a book that explores the realm of fan fiction took me aback, and yet filled me with cautious joy. Would this novel make a mockery of that which so many hold so dear?
Thankfully, it does not. Fangirl paints an honest, joyous picture of ‘nerd-dom’, and I found myself smiling as Cath divulged her love of fan fiction to others and found that the others had genuine interest in understanding it. The little things that every nerd will recognise made me both laugh and grin. What a brilliant concept this book is, giving a voice to those who aren’t necessarily understood and prefer to stay away from social events. It’s refreshing, to say the least.
I do have two niggles, however. One is the abrupt ending – I want to know more! I didn’t like how it ended so suddenly, and I wonder if it was intentional. The other is the excerpts of Cath’s fan fiction. Although I know fan fiction plays a huge part in the story, I found myself scanning rather than reading the excerpts, impatient to get back to Cath’s story. Of course, I’ve no doubt the excerpts relate to events in her life, but I still couldn’t bring myself to sit still and read them. Perhaps on the second read (and there will be a second read, no doubt), I’ll stop and read them, and maybe understand and appreciate.
Fangirl, aside from these niggles, is a wonderful, beautiful novel. Utterly realistic, more realistic than any book I’ve read in a long time, and it is this that makes it truly great. Ms Rowell, you are a genius.