Book Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

When I first heard about Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl I was not very interested in reading it. I thought it would end up being an incredibly superficial and clichéd story, and I was not familiar with the author. However, in the weeks after the book was released I kept hearing about how good it was and how well it represented the fandom experience. In the end I gave in and started reading it, and I’m glad I did, because it’s probably the most invested I’ve felt in a book in a while.

My favourite thing about this book is how relatable it is. I can definitely relate to the way Cath describes her relationship to fandom. I haven’t really been an active participant in fandom until recently, and I would still hesitate to say that I am. I blog here and I participate in discussions with friends, but my activity is limited compared to other people know. This is mostly due to a busy schedule, and it fluctuates depending on how much time I have to spare. Despite this, I still agree with Cath that it is sometimes easier to submerge yourself in a fictional world than dealing with your own. Especially in her situation, taking into consideration her family’s past. There is a certain level of escapism in fiction and fandom that is nice, and you can come out of it with solid friendships (which is an aspect I wish the book had explored more, to be honest).

In addition to its portrayal of fandom, I appreciated how Fangirl portrayed mental health and disabilities. It was interesting to see how their mother leaving had manifested in different ways for all the members of the family. Cath’s father, who I guess was suffering from some form of bi-polar disorder, was well represented despite mostly appearing as a side character in the story. It was interesting to hear how they had all adapted to his new lifestyle, and that their day-to-day lives had its ups and downs because of it. In the twins’ case I found it interesting to learn that it had manifested almost in completely opposing ways. Wren took fitting in and being a part of everything to the extreme, while Cath turned introvert and locked herself off from most things in her life, and as a result a rift appeared between the two sisters. It’s kind of similar to my relationship with my sister a few years ago, though it never got as extreme and our past is nowhere near as traumatic as Cath and Wren’s. I think the book took a fairly negative stance on medication and therapy in the treatment of mental health, and I would have liked to hear more about Wren’s progress in AA meetings, but I enjoyed what we did get at least. As for Levi’s dyslexia, I liked that it was just a part of him that defined how he approached his studies and made it harder for him to keep up, but that for the most part it wasn’t made into bigger deal than it needed to be.

Speaking of Levi, he is probably my favourite character. His character was seemingly supposed to be a happy, outgoing and optimistic counterpart to Cath’s introverted and at times pessimistic self. Their dynamic is a big part of why I enjoyed him so much – I tend to enjoy pairings of very opposite personalities who somehow still get along really well. Also, I thought it was hilarious how invested he was in hearing about her Simon Snow fan-fiction.

Which leads me to my last point, I guess. Simon Snow aka Cath’s Harry Potter. I laughed a lot as I read the ridiculous spell casting in the excerpts from Simon Snow, I’m not going to lie. I kind of enjoy how obvious the parallels to JK Rowling’s story were, and that it wasn’t even trying to be as good. My favourite thing about it was that the sixth novel revolved around finding six hares around the school (clearly intended to mirror the hunt for horcruxes in the Half Blood Prince). I’ve gathered from comments that Simon and Bas are supposed to be reminiscent of Harry and Draco, but I have never read Harry Potter fan-fiction, so that reference was lost on me.

Anyway, read it, it’s fun!

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