Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Cath Wasn't Just a Simon Fan — She Was One Of The Fans

By Rainbow Rowell
Amazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks

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, 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 fanfiction, 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 fanfiction 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? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

If there was ever a book written especially for book bloggers to connect with and adore, this may very well be it. I highly doubt we'd be doing what we're doing if we hadn't felt passionate about what we're reading, so having a main character as passionate about stories and writing as we are... well it's practically a no-brainer that the community would fall in love. That being said, it's also a charming romance, a realistic look at college, and a heartwarming tale about family. Part nostalgia trip, part genuine good story, I couldn't help but be enthralled by this book.

Cath is a new college student with a TON on her plate. Shy and non-confrontational to a fault, her only solace in this new, stressful situation is in her writing. What was both scary and reassuring was how much I shared with Cath: I've connected with fan communities online, I've written (and read) fanfiction, in person I'm often shy and non-confrontational, our family situations are not wholly dissimilar... Thus I connected with Cath and her problems, her goals, and her victories on a whole other level. Not only is Cath relatable to other fangirls, but she reads like a real person with believable faults, strengths, hopes, fears, and relationships.

Speaking of which leads us to the boy, or rather boys, Nate and Levi. I won't go into spoiler territory here by telling you which one turns out to be the boy Cath ends up dating, but I will say that the boyfriend was almost too perfect. Boy had some problems, sure, but nothing that ever came up or interfered directly with Cath. I did appreciate that they did have tiffs now and again, but the resolutions came off a tad unbelievable in their speed. Still, their chemistry was definitely dreamy sigh-worthy, earning the simultaneous admiration and jealousy of every single girl reading the book. And I guess every romance has a little fantasy to it anyway.

And on the topic of fantasy, how about that Simon Snow? While somewhat of a ripoff of Harry Potter, I actually did enjoy reading the few excerpts we got from 'the original text' at the beginnings of chapters, as well as the few portions of Cath's fanfiction about it. I did find it a bit weird when Harry Potter was mentioned in the text, what with the books' premise and media situation being so identical, but it mostly read as nostalgic for me. The Simon Snow phenomenon may be a throwback to something else, (Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games, etc.) but it was well-developed—especially where the characters were concerned—and presented in a respectable and believable way. And I'll admit, I actually got invested in it and Cath's fanfiction by the end.

I know I keep saying "believable" a lot, but that's really what this book comes down to. The college experience, from the family separation to the academic expectations to the New Adult experimentation, felt all too real. I may have even experienced some teary-eyed flashbacks of my own... Cath's family problems, from trauma to triumph, felt real. Hell, Cath's entire life felt real. Apart from the aforementioned romance elements, I would swear this could be Rowell's autobiography. Obviously it's not, but even considering that possibility is a testament in and of itself.

And after all that, the ending left me wanting more. It wasn't incomplete or a cliffhanger or anything as cruel as that, thank goodness, but it also wasn't all wrapped up in a little bow either. There were still questions, there were still possibilities, and in that it was its own kind of perfect. Sure, I would have liked to have seen how certain things actually resolved, especially where the Simon Snow stories were involved, but that wasn't really what the book was about. It was about Cath, and I enjoyed the 'ending' her story came to. Including that little nod at the end; well played, indeed.

Overall, I found Fangirl to be yet another endearing story from Rainbow Rowell. I'd highly recommend it to anyone who experienced the Harry Potter phenomenon, or really any YA phenomenon, especially those who 'grew up' and entered college at the time. I don't know that this will read as well with an older audience, or those who weren't as involved with the online communities of the time, but perhaps this may serve as an insight into our lives at the time. Otherwise, fans of Contemporary Young Adult or New Adult Romance may also enjoy this book. There is adult language, some sexual situations, drinking, and general college-age material, so I'd put this firmly in the high school and up range. Book bloggers have been praising this nonstop since its release, and with good reason, but I think it's message can be loved by a much wider audience, so definitely grab yourself a copy of Fangirl. And let the fanfiction fly.

Approximate Reading Time: 6.5 hours

Audiobook Review
Read by Rebecca Lowman w/ Maxwell Caulfield
Length: 12.8 Hours
Listened at 2x Speed

Whereas the last book (Eleanor & Park) had a switching back and forth with perspectives being the reason for separate readers, this book uses the technique in a more stylistic way. Lowman reprises her narrative role with the majority of the text, reading everything in Cath's point of view. Caulfield, however, merely reads the chapter ends/beginnings where there is a section quoting the Simon Snow literature or fanfiction. I found it not only served as an interesting break between the chapters, but also a near sound-alike to the Harry Potter series' narrator, Jim Dale. Ah, the nostalgia.

Overall a great audio to listen to. I did notice some discrepancies between the audio and text, specifically with some of the quotations and/or dates, but nothing that would be noticed by anyone who didn't have the text in front of them (or memorized). With emotive readers and an otherwise clean production, I'd definitely recommend this to any audiophile. And to the casual listeners out there, definitely snag a copy or listen to a preview if the premise piques your interest.