Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Rainbow Rowell - Fangirl

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?

I have a confession: I was afraid to read Fangirl. I was afraid it wouldn’t live up to my expectations and my hopes for it. I was afraid it couldn’t capture the true experience of being a fangirl.

I was afraid because I didn’t love Eleanor & Park, not the way everyone did. I mean, I liked it, I gave it three stars, but I didn’t love it. I think I’m a harder grader than a lot of people. I would be that teacher, the one who doesn’t give a lot of As, but when you get one, you know you’ve really earned it. Which is not to say anyone else’s rating/grading system is wrong. It’s just not me.

I shouldn’t have been worried. Fangirl is everything I wanted it to be.

A freshman in college, Cather doesn’t see why anything has to change. She wants to room with her more outgoing twin sister Wren, to continue on writing her fan fiction and living in the world of Simon Snow and fandom. Wren has other ideas, choosing to live not only in a different room but in an entirely different dorm. Alone for the first time in her life, Cath is forced to meet new people, to live with a stranger, and to learn that there’s a world outside of fandom.

Simon Snow is a Harry Potter-esque character with seven books (and an eighth to come), movies, and a fandom large enough to rival Harry Potter. And vampires. Harry Potter is actually mentioned in this book, which means that both worlds and fandoms exist. That’s a little difficult for me to imagine, just because Harry Potter fandom is SO HUGE and to think of another fandom that’s so similar and so large at the same time just doesn’t work for me. It seems like there would be an insane amount of crossover, and people only have so much time and money to devote to fannish activities. I think I would prefer think that there’s no Harry Potter in the world of Fangirl.

(Note: After I wrote and scheduled my review, Rainbow Rowell answered a question about this very subject here. And clearly from many of the notes, I’m in the minority in thinking it’s a bad idea to have them both.)

The ONE thing that doesn’t ring true to me is that Cath seems to have no fandom friends. She mentions a beta reader in Rhode Island, but she never mentions chats or emails or any connection with actual people in fandom. She does say that she and Wren used to spend a lot of time on Simon Snow forums, but she doesn’t seem to involved in them in Fangirl. Maybe she’s moved away from that, but still, she should have SOME friends in fandom. She only talks about the huge numbers of comments she gets on her fan fiction and that she doesn’t have time to keep up with them all.

If that’s true, then Cath isn’t really IN the fandom at all. She’s a BNF as far as her fan fiction goes, but she’s a lurker in every other way. (Maybe not even a lurker if she’s no longer visiting those message boards.) She’s very disconnected from fandom if all she’s doing is writing her own stories. Maybe she’s always been more of a lurker. With her personality, I can see that. It’s just not something that’s explored and I wish it was.

(Note: And Rainbow Rowell also addressed THIS subject here. I still wish it was included, but she’s the author, not me. Can I just say how amazing it is that the author of the book I’m reviewing is addressing concerns like this?)

Rowell includes excerpts from both Cath’s fan fiction (some co-written with Wren when they were younger, showing how close they used to be) and fictional author Gemma T. Leslie’s Simon Snow books. I skipped over most of those parts, although some of the excerpts from Simon Snow and the Six White Hares were intriguing and made me wish it was a real book. For the most part, it’s difficult for me to get into the Simon Snow-verse just from the excerpts.

Speaking of fan fiction, I cringed when Cath turned one in for an assignment in her Fiction Writing class. I don’t think fan fiction is plagiarism the way her professor does, but it’s not entirely original writing either, and it certainly isn’t appropriate for a college assignment. Cath should have known better. She could have at least changed the names and made it less obvious that she was writing about Simon and Baz. That’s all it would have taken, really, and I actually know someone who did that many, many years ago. (No, it wasn’t me.)

While I wish she would have reached out and made a few more college friends than she did — other girls on her floor maybe, or the Simon Snow fangirl she meets in the library — I like the ones she has by the end of the book. She and her roommate Reagan are very different and have separate worlds, but they manage to make their friendship work.

And then there’s Levi.

“You don’t even know me. You’re old and you smoke — and you have a job. You have experience.”

That may all be true (Smoking? Ew.) but as Levi says, what they have in common is that they like each other. And I like them. SIGH. I love them. Levi is an amazing first real boyfriend. (Her high school boyfriend doesn’t count.) Their romance takes some time to build, which is what Cath needs. She’s inexperienced and instalove wouldn’t have worked for her character. Levi is funny and patient and a great guy and he’s amazing just like this book. Levi would like this book. Levi likes Cath’s fan fiction. He likes it when Cath reads her fan fiction out loud to him. How perfect is that?

Levi, Reagan, and Cath aren’t the only great characters in Fangirl, though. It seems mean from Cath’s point of view, but I can understand Wren’s desire to separate from Cath just a bit, and I love their father so much. I want to move in with him and eat at taco trucks every night.

There’s one more thing that makes Fangirl so awesome. As you can see in this post I reblogged on my tumblr, melissapilakowski points out that all of the locations at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln are real AND a lot of the characters are named after buildings on the campus. Rainbow Rowell posts that, “All Fangirl characters with last names are named after University of Nebraska buildings.” I wish I had known that before I read it, and that I had seen the image on that tumblr post or at least visited the UNL website to visualize the locations. (I had my own college campus in mind the whole time.)

The end of Fangirl feels just a little rushed to me. A lot is wrapped up in a short time, and I wish it had been given more pages, especially the release of the final Simon Snow book.

five stars


  1. I’m also worried about reading this one. I have heard such amazing things about it that I think my expectations are set too high. It’s hard to lower them when everyone seem to love it. I hope it won’t disappoint me. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Great review 🙂
    Tanja recently posted…ARC Review: Heritage by S.M. BoyceMy Profile

    • I hope you like it. It’s awful to feel like that one person who doesn’t like a book that everyone loves. I knew I had tor read it before more and more reviews started popping up because that wouldn’t help keep my expectations in check.
      Jenna recently posted…Discussion: Head to Toe BooksMy Profile

  2. I am currently reading this one so I didn’t read the rest of your review, but I did pick up on you not like Eleanor & Park so much. I actually loved that book, so I do have high expectations for Fangirl.
    Dre @ Sporadic Reads recently posted…Weekend Reading #004My Profile

  3. I’ve been on the fence with this one. I haven’t read Eleanor & Park, so I don’t have that to use as a point of reference. And then there’s the fandom thing. I’m not sure that I’ve ever been a true fan girl and I’m not sure what reading about it would be like. You’re review has me thinking I’d like to give it a shot though. It’s on my tbr already, but maybe I’ll move it up the list a little bit.. Great review!
    Berls @ Fantasy is More Fun recently posted…Early Review | Tempt the Stars by Karen ChanceMy Profile

    • I’ve read a lot of reviews (and comments on tumblr) from people who haven’t been involved in fandom but still loved this book. Maybe your love of Buffy, even if you weren’t in the fandom, will help you relate to Cath.
      Jenna recently posted…Shine On AwardMy Profile

  4. There has been a lot of hype surrounding Fangirl, so I wouldn’t blame you for feeling afraid before reading it. The hype machine takes many victims o.o. and your experience – that you didn’t love E&P like everyone else – also reminds me of another friend who was wary of reading Fangirl for that reason but who also loved it like you did.

    I WISH THERE WAS AN EIGHTH HP BOOK TO COME LIKE WITH SIMON. *sigh* ” That’s a little difficult for me to imagine, just because Harry Potter fandom is SO HUGE and to think of another fandom that’s so similar and so large at the same time just doesn’t work for me.” <– I've seen this mentioned a bunch, though you bring up a good point about the finances and fangirling crossover that seems unlikely. For me imagining Simon Snow as a mix of Twilight and Harry Potter was what made it okay for the two of them to coexist. (That and I, er, didn't really read the fan fiction). … Anddd I just read your link. Interesting, okay so what I just said doesn't make sense hahaha. A bit sad that it's making Rowell upset, but it was great to read from her perspective; if I was her beta, I probably wouldn't have gotten upset either just because I didn't really notice the coexistence until other readers pointed it out.

    OH YEAH. Hmmm. She should have fandom friends. Book bloggers are kind of like a fandom and yet we're all so interconnected. "She only talks about the huge numbers of comments she gets on her fan fiction and that she doesn’t have time to keep up with them all. If that’s true, then Cath isn’t really IN the fandom at all." Very true. What do you mean by BNF? "Maybe she’s always been more of a lurker. With her personality, I can see that. It’s just not something that’s explored and I wish it was." <– Also true about her personality. She's so introverted…. Ahh, okay I see another link so before I comment, I'm going to go take a look. Hmm, that was a less satisfying answer than the one the first link provided… but I do agree that it's awesome that she's chosen to answer those questions. Kind of reminds me of Kristin Cashore and Graceling.

    Ahhh, I actually didn't take issue with her turning in FF for her creative writing class because it seems like a lot of the exercises that I've done in them before have involved stories where we've passed around papers and shared characters and experiences. We wrote after one another. Is it that much of a stretch to let her develop already made characters at will?

    LEVI AND REAGAN <3. (Definite ew to the smoking). AND YES I love Cath/Levi. Abe definitely doesn't count either. Levi. Levi. Levi. He'd actually be a literary crush/ book boyfriend if I didn't think that I'd also worry like Cath about his smiles – that he's just so friendly to everyone. It's nice, but I also imagine I'd think the same she did – about it not being any more special for me than someone else. What was your favorite part about him? That he read the FF aloud with her or?

    I think it's hard not to have your own college campus in mind while you read this book. It is SO good at bringing on the nostalgia. Also, you're awesome to have so much information about this book. I've learned so much from your review about RR's responses. It's great. I also did want a longer ending too but the book was just so awesome that I didn't feel like mentioning that ahahah.
    Christina @ Christina Reads YA recently posted…Christina Read: Through the Ever Night by Veronica RossiMy Profile

    • I was thinking of Simon Snow as a mix of Harry Potter and Twilight too, until HP was mentioned. Then I realized he was a separate character. I still like it better if he was a mix and HP didn’t exist in that world, but I don’t want it removed now that it’s published.

      A BNF is a Big Name Fan, someone everyone in the fandom knows about, like Parajunkee or Ashley from Nose Graze. In fandom they’re usually fan fiction authors with huge followings. They’re also usually pretty social. A lot of people say they’re much more outgoing and have more friends online than they do in real life, but I guess that’s not true with Cath. It probably has something to do with Wren. Wren was probably the one doing all the interacting while Cath just sat back and wrote.

      At first I was hoping Cath and the other guy from her class were going to get together. I liked Levi and Reagan! Then that didn’t work out and I soon fell in line with Levi/Cath. I loved that he was taking a YA lit class and for some reason I was so surprised that he was interested in agriculture/ranching. It wasn’t something I ever would have considered for him, although it does match up with his background once we learned about that.

      I’m glad my links were helpful. If you have the time, scroll through the reblogbookclub on tumblr. There’s some amazing stuff there, a lot of art and drawings of Cath and other characters.
      Jenna recently posted…Something Wicked ReturnsMy Profile


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