I expected FANGIRL to be fun, exuberant, charming. A love letter to the Harry Potter series and the fan culture surrounding it. A book about how terrifying and miserable the first year of college can be, and how change comes for us all. Wrapped up with a satisfying HEA. And it was all of those things. In some ways, FANGIRL is a pure confection of a novel. A crisp, airy meringue of delight. Our protagonist, Cath, writes fanfiction about the 'Simon Snow' series, a thinly veiled twist on Harry Potter. This fictional blockbuster series will have eight books and the eighth book is scheduled for release just as Cath's first year of college draws to a close.
Cath spends all of FANGIRL--all of her freshman year--writing her version of how the Simon Snow series should end. She's racing against the clock, because she has to finish before the real book eight comes out and renders her own work irrelevant. I loved the way that Cath wrestles with her fanfiction; how she defends its originality but feels punctured when her writing professor criticizes her. How she loves the fan culture even though it makes her own work ephemeral.
FANGIRL brought back those years before the Harry Potter series was over and the wait seemed endless but there was always that wonderful anticipation of a new book. Of being inside the phenomenon, experiencing it as it unfolded. We (the fans) all knew something amazing was happening, but we didn't know where it would go or how it would end.
I did wish, however, that FANGIRL had dealt more with what happens when the eighth Simon Snow book DOES come out. It's the end of an era--the series is over, Cath's fic is over. She's ready for something new. That's the moment where all of the experiences she's had in the novel tip her in a new direction. The very last page of FANGIRL is an excerpt from the first page of the first story Cath writes after her fanfic. It feels really momentous, like a sea change. Like payoff.
But I wanted to know why she picked that story, and how she meant to continue. In a way, I felt like the most important part of the conclusion--the 'now what?'--was left off the page.
So this fanfic that Cath's writing is a sort of--I don't know, a symbol of the limbo she's in? A project that she started in high school and can't abandon. The crown jewel of her adolescence. By the time it ends, something else needs to begin. Adulthood, if all goes well.
Which brings me back to Cath's first year of college, which is both ordinary and excruciatingly painful (excruciatingly painful in very ordinary ways, I suppose). She's separating from her father, who's more dependent on his children than he ought to be. Her twin sister, Wren, is tired of being one half of a whole and pushes Cath away out of an understandable but immensely hurtful desire to do her own thing for a while. And that leaves Cath, always the less social/popular/cool one of the pair, struggling to make friends on her own for the first time in her life.
She has a hard time of it. The first half of the book really tugged my heartstrings. Cath's isolation and hurt are sharply drawn. It gets to the point where even her last safe place, her writing, is poisoned. There were moments when I thought to myself, "If I read all of this painful stuff and there's no happy ending, I am going to be so mad."
But there is a happy ending. As well as a really sweet, lovely, so charming romance. And Cath gets to find out, at the end of the day, that she's fine just as she is. Time happens. Change happens. Some of it hurts. But she's good.
Note: I received a free copy of this book through the the Amazon Vine program.
Also note: I follow Rainbow Rowell on Twitter & Tumblr. That's why I requested the book--I like her social media voice quite a bit. This also meant that I'd seen a fair bit of Fangirl fan-art before I started the book, & it turns out they should have come with a spoiler alert. I think I would have enjoyed the book more if I hadn't known what to expect, but I certainly enjoyed it anyhow.