Do you know what I’m tired of?
Well, there are a lot of things, but one of the things I’ve gotten particularly tired of is the demonization of both fanfiction and the shipping fangirl as perverted, evil, plaigiaristic, or just plain wrong.
That’s where Rainbow Rowell’s new novel Fangirl comes in. Fangirl’s main character is a dedicated slash fangirl named Cather with an online following of thousands. Cather is just starting college, and while her twin sister Wren seems to have put aside her ‘childish’ obsession with the Harry Potter-esque Simon Snow series now that she’s at school, Cather remains devoted to her stories.
Vague spoilers below the cut.
As the publication date of the eighth and final Simon Snow book approaches, Cath feels compelled to race to finish her fanfic, which is a Simon/Baz interpretation of what might happen in their eighth year at school, before it’s rendered “Alternate Universe” by the real story’s conclusion. But however much she finds comfort and freedom in writing about her boys and interacting with her fans, she can’t hide from her problems in Simon’s world forever. Family crises, asshole classmates, and nosy professors force Cath into a balancing act that she can’t possibly maintain. But don’t worry—there’s a happy ending.
Okay, though, let me say: I really adored this book. I first heard about it via Noelle Stevenson’s tumblr, as she drew the awesome cover art, but as soon as I read the plot synopsis on Amazon I was sold. It captures so many positive things about being a fangirl, as well as the social problems that many people who immerse themselves in a fandom face. It also, unsurprisingly, made me truly nostalgic for the golden age of the Harry Potter fandom, back when only four books were published. The long publishing delay between Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix was a major contributor to the size and scope of the HP fanworks community—everyone wanted to take their stab at the universe and try to fill in what happened next, and in that space before the series was finished, any of those works could be your personal canon. There hasn’t been an online fandom that universal since then, I’d say, and Rowell really captures what it’s like to be a part of something like that.
What especially surprised me about this book was its thoughtful inclusion of not just one, but two, disabled characters. Cath’s friend Levi struggles with a learning disability that hampers his reading, and the two of them bond as she reads both textbooks and her own works aloud to him. Levi’s case was an interesting twist on the gut reaction many book lovers have when they hear the phrase ‘I’m not really a book person.’ At first, Cath dismisses Levi as an idiot and a bit of a fake fanboy because he’s only seen the Simon Snow movies and not read the books, but the revelation of his reading problem subverts that impression neatly.
The other disabled character is Cath’s father, who struggles with bipolar disorder. His long bouts of manic behavior drive his success in his career in advertising, but his depressive periods are disastrous. And since the girls’ mom left when they were very young, Cath is the one who ends up having to put her father back together when he falls apart. While his swings are clearly a problem for both him and his family, his portrayal is nuanced and interesting, and I honestly can’t think of another book with a bipolar character, let alone one portrayed so well.
This book was a delightful read, lacing together Cath’s narrative with excerpts both from her own fanfiction and the fictional Simon Snow series. I sped through it in a couple hours and it clocks in at over four hundred pages, so that should say anything necessary about the quality of the writing. It’s smooth, gripping, and just a refreshingly great novel altogether. I recommend it highly to anyone and everyone, especially my fellow fangirls. (Also, it was chosen as the official Tumblr-sponsored Reblog Book Club‘s first selection, so if you’ve been reading along over the last month, let me know what you thought!)