Eighteen-year-old Cather has a lot going on in her life. She’s beginning her freshman year in college, and young wizard, Simon, and his vampire roommate, Baz, are taking up all of her time.
Cather’s a student at that special school known as “The University of Nebraska.” Simon is the eponymous hero of the “Simon Snow” books, a thinly-veiled Harry Potteresque series whose final book will end around the time spring term ends at Nebraska. For years, Cather and her twin sister, Wren, have written hugely popular “Simon Snow” fan-fiction (“fan-fic”).
If you’ve never experienced fan-fic, you should definitely check some out before reading “Fangirl.” Fans of a series write their own stories based on the published works, referred to by fan-fic devotees as “canon.” For example, if I were writing Harry Potter fan-fic, I would have a London gangster come up behind “Order of the Phoenix” Harry, and shoot him first in the back of the head with a silenced .25 caliber semi-automatic, then once in the temple. A nice, trademark mob hit. This would prevent Harry from whining for 500 pages.
Relax. I’m just using that as an example. I would never write fan-fic harming Harry (unless I myself could take a baseball bat and–)
Sorry. I digress. But you get the point of fan-fic. A large percentage of fan-fic is mediocre, but some of it is truly inspired—beautifully written, and thoughtfully plotted. Cather’s fan-fic is extraordinarily good, and routinely gets 30-40,000 hits a day. When she and Wren start at Nebraska, Cather’s fan-fic production falls off. Granted, she has a lot of homework, but she has trouble adjusting to the big school, especially since Wren has left her behind, wanting her own experiences.
Counterintuitively, as Cather begins to find her footing at Nebraska, she is once again able to write her fan fiction. She’s writing her big finish to the series, and she wants to have it done before the final Simon Snow book hits the shelves. It looks like she’s going to make it. The relationships in her life improve; she tastes love for the first time, and she finds a new confidence. Will she devote the last true measure of herself to her online fans? Or will she choose a different, unfamiliar tack, one conceivably fraught with discomfiting new experiences?
Rainbow Rowell penned one of my favorite books of late, “Eleanor and Park,” and “Fangirl” is also very good. We see the story through Cather’s eyes, and it’s a sad world at first. She feels estranged from everybody—her sister, her roommate, the other students on campus. Many of us feel alone and homesick when we get to college—I know I did—and Cather has an especially tough time. The one person who should be there for Cather, her “automatic best-friend”–her twin sister–has chosen to room with somebody else, and she’s become a regular on the party scene leaving Cather behind.
It would be easy for Cather to quit and move home, but she doesn’t. She grinds it out, and eventually finds her niche. She discovers a happiness, a contentedness on her own terms—very different from Wren’s—and she wears it well. The ending might disappoint some readers, but I thought it was note-perfect, and showed how far Cather grows during her freshman year.
Once again, Rainbow Rowell has created some indelible characters. The beauty of her writing is that she takes her characters, and she lovingly places them in taught, nicely rendered stories, many of which run counter to what we might expect in a novel…
…almost like she’s writing fan-fiction with her own characters.
Very Highly Recommended