I realize I’m late to the Rainbow Rowell fan club, having only just listened to Eleanor & Park this past spring. But I really enjoyed that one, so now I’m making my way through her others! Fangirl was available on audio from my library (without the waiting list Landline has), so I listened to it next.
About the Book:
Cath and her identical twin sister, Wren, have been inseparable all their lives. They got each other through their mother leaving them in third grade. They kept their dad from losing himself to his manic tendencies. They even co-authored a bunch of fan fiction stories about Simon Snow, a Harry Potter-esque fantasy series that’s taken the world by storm.
But as they prepare to leave for college, Wren tells Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. More and more, she backs away from everything she and Cath have shared as she tries to find her own way through freshman year. Cath is left with an upperclassman roommate who hardly speaks to her, an irresistible preference for the world of fan fiction over the real world, and a stash of protein bars — which is good, because she doesn’t know where the dining hall is and doesn’t feel up to finding out.
The story unfolds from there, following Cath through her freshman year — through family emergencies and crushes and coursework and growing up. And a whole lot of Simon Snow, of course!
Goodness, I like the way Rainbow Rowell writes. Her stories could be so painfully cheesy, and yet in her hands, they’re perfect. If adult chick lit were like this, I’d read it. The characters, the dialogue, the narration that holds it all together — it all feels so real. The balance of heavy stuff and lighter bits is spot on. And the plot pacing, the rise and fall of the narrative, the events — nothing feels forced or contrived. All of which I find seriously impressive.
What I think added a whole extra dimension to Fangirl was the way it explored fiction. Each chapter starts with an excerpt from the “real” Simon Snow series or from one of Cath’s fan fic stories. There are times in the novel itself where Cath reads her stories out loud, and there are plenty of passages about what it’s like for her as she’s writing this parallel story that thousands of people are reading while they wait for the eighth and final installment in the official series to be released. On top of that, Cath has talked her way into an upper-level fiction writing course, and her work from that bleeds into the pages of Fangirl, too. Rowell even explores the relationship between fiction and fan fiction, just enough to make it interesting.
I know some people preferred Eleanor & Park to Fangirl, but I’m in the opposite camp. I felt like I “got” Cath more than I got Eleanor or Park, for some reason. And I liked that the narration stayed solidly with her instead of switching back and forth. The alternating approach certainly worked with Eleanor & Park, but with Fangirl, I liked following one character from start to finish. The supporting characters — Wren, Cath’s roommate Reagan, Professor Piper, the sisters’ dad — felt weightier in this one than in Eleanor & Park, which made the story feel more grounded somehow. The biggest thing that bothered me about Eleanor & Park — the ending — wasn’t an issue at all with Fangirl. I even preferred the romance in Fangirl to the one in Eleanor & Park, even though after reading the latter I’d probably have told you I couldn’t imagine anything better. Don’t get me wrong, though…I loved them both!
Rebecca Lowman, who narrated Fangirl as well as Eleanor’s half of Eleanor & Park, is magnificent once again. She’s perfect for these stories, with a gentle, warm, intimate, wonderfully expressive voice. She does guy characters without sounding weird, and her inflection throughout is just right. There are times when you can actually hear the smile coming through. Maxwell Caulfield reads the pre-chapter excerpts in a solid British accent, which fits nicely. I would definitely recommend the audiobook. It’s great!
Am I gushing? I think I’m gushing. I’ll stop now.
The Verdict: Excellent
Surprise! I loved this one. (Bet you didn’t see that coming!) It was one of those find-excuses-to-keep-listening, over-too-soon, wish-I-could-read-it-for-the-first-time-again books. I think I’m now solidly a Rainbow Rowell fan, and I’ve put myself on the list for Landline on audio at the library.
Who’s the last author you binge-read (or listened to)?