Author: Rainbow Rowell
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publish Date: September 10th, 2013
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
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.
Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.
Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.
Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate 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.
For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?
Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?
And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?
My first experience with Rainbow Rowell’s writing was unpleasant to say the least and concluded with me vowing to never pick up another one of her works. Nine months later, I allowed myself to be coerced into participating in a buddy read for Fangirl, despite the expected warning bells that were automatically triggered in my head. It was almost as appealing as the knowledge that you have to climb out of your warm, cozy bed on a frigid, winter morning after three hours of sleep with the prospect of several final exams looming ahead of you. I wasn’t exactly jumping for joy, to say the least.
My apprehension likely contributed to the somewhat rocky start I experienced while reading. I buddy read the novel with Kathy over at The Novelty of Life, and our first conversation about the book was highly underwhelming and began like this:
And our initial discussion continued to go downhill from there. After all, who names their twin daughters Cather and Wren simply because they liked the name Catherine but were too lazy to think of a second one? While yes, little details such as this help to characterize the twins’ parents (as Kathy pointed out while trying to calm me down mid-rant), I spent the entirety of the novel loathing the protagonists’ names as a result. It got to the point that I was physically and mentally cringing each time I came across one of their names. I could go on and on about their unfortunate nomenclature for days, but I don’t want to bore you, and I think I’ve sufficiently driven home the point.
Transcending my hatred for the characters’ names was my dislike for the characters themselves, particularly when I first began reading. While the primary figures in the novel were well-written, well-developed, and three dimensional, their personalities tended to border on needy, obsessive, self-absorbed, and grudge-driven.
Cather’s role as narrator served to further exacerbate her obnoxious quirks, such as her complete unwillingness to leave her dorm room, meet or interact with her peers, or even inquire as to where the dining hall was located upon moving into college. She ate solely protein bars for the first several months of school and had her roommate convinced that she was plagued by an eating disorder simply due to her refusal to ask a simple question. I’ve found characters who do not make any effort to help themselves to be the most aggravating and often equate them to the horror movie celebrities that rationalize going out into the woods alone in the middle of the night because they hear a strange sound (ignoring, of course, your repeated shouts that the axe murderer is waiting behind the next tree and that they should turn around if they know what’s good for them).
Wren was her own separate nightmare for entirely different reasons – even without intoxication, she was insensitive, abrasive, and highly critical, even when interacting with her own twin. She displayed no sympathy toward her sister or father, preferring to party rather than concern herself with family matters or her schoolwork. It took Wren the majority of the book to recognize how her own self-centered, reckless actions influenced those around her, and she was surprisingly unapologetic, even after the fact.
Although they eventually began to grow on me, none of the characters, major or minor, ever completely won me over. I never established a connection with or fondness of any of Rowell’s creations and was subsequently unable to empathize with any of them. In fact, I don’t think I would have minded or reacted in the slightest if Rowell decided to pull a George R.R. Martin and kill 75% of the cast. My consequential thought process likely would have consisted of a “Hmm, that’s nice. I think I’ll go make some more coffee now while I wait for the next killing spree to begin.” Personally, I have to be very fond of the characters to enjoy a book in its entirety, and unfortunately that wasn’t the case for Fangirl.
Rainbow Rowell focuses so intently on crafting the perfect array of characters that she seemingly neglects other aspects of the novel such as the plot and pacing as a result. The plot was seemingly empty and filled with excessive amounts of fluff; more often than not, the book didn’t appear to be moving in any particular direction, the characters acted without purpose, and any potential cliffhangers or plot twists were not taken advantage of. Similarly, the transitions between scenes were choppy and disjointed, resulting in a bit of a disagreeable read. Events were not well-linked, and the associations that were established are seemingly insignificant even in hindsight.
Furthermore, there were a multitude of unresolved plotlines and loose ends resulting from a disappointing and highly nonspecific conclusion. The ending, comprehensively, was rather vague. Many of the key themes that were introduced throughout the book, such as fan fiction, suddenly disappeared for long lengths of time or were never discussed again, fading off into the distance without so little as an explanation. Rowell tiptoed around these heavier topics to begin with, and it’s as if she became tired of writing about them and simply decided to…stop writing about them? Additionally, there were numerous characters whose corresponding backstories were never fully revealed, nor the purpose of their involvement in the book overall. This sense of ambiguity served to further alienate me from both the plot and the characters, as I continued to have little concern regarding either, let alone the ultimate outcomes of each individual.
The Simon and Baz fanfiction and references were equally frustrating. Besides coming across as a rip-off of the Harry Potter series and its corresponding fandom, the inclusion of excerpts from both the original works as well as a variety of fanfiction authors didn’t add anything to the story. If anything, it served to interrupt the fluidity of the succession of events and diverted attention from Rowell’s characters and the situations at hand. Perhaps if the Simon Snow references had played a larger role in the book overall, they wouldn’t have come across as such an afterthought or extraneous detail that could have been easily excluded to reduce the page length.
The work’s sole redeeming quality was the adorable romance and its rather lengthy buildup. It was sweet and genuine, lacking every component of instalove and progressing at its own meandering pace. Their conversations were genuine, and, for the most part, didn’t include a great deal of fluff. They also acted like mature human beings around one another, rather than ten-year-olds at the middle school mixer – I can’t believe young adult literature in general has stooped to the level that I actually have to stress this in a review.
While Fangirl was a cute read with a charming love story and corresponding relationship, I wasn’t able to overlook the blaring technical errors. The overdeveloped characters sharply contrasted and drew attention to the severely underdeveloped plot, themes, and conclusion. I generally give authors two separate opportunities to win me over, and unfortunately Rainbow Rowell has struck out on both accounts. Whether it’s her writing, stylistic techniques, or overall decisions while writing, Rowell hasn’t impressed me thus far, and I will be sparing myself the torment of reading any of her other novels in the future.
I really seem to be on a roll with the unpopular opinions recently…
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