“It felt good to be writing in her own room, in her own bed. To get lost in the World of Mages and stay lost. To not hear any voices in her head but Simon’s and Baz’s. Not even her own. This was why Cath wrote fic. For these hours when their world supplanted the real world. When she could just ride their feelings for each other like a wave, like something falling down hill.”
Cath Avery isn’t just any Simon Snow fan. The whole world is a fan of the seven Simon Snow books and their film adaptations, but Cath is a Big Name Fan. Online, where she’s known as Magicath, she’s the author of Carry On, Simon, the biggest year eight fic in the Simon Snow fanverse, and she only has until May to finish writing her version before Gemma T. Leslie releases the final Simon Snow book, and her story officially becomes noncompliant. Unfortunately, Cath has a big year ahead that could potentially interrupt her writing; she’s starting university, and her twin sister, Wren, has refused to be her roommate, so Cath is going to have to meet the dreaded new people. Since their mom left when they were kids, she also has to worry about the fact that their dad will be on his own for the first time. Despite being a freshman, she’s also gotten permission to enrol in an upper division fiction writing class, where she will have to test her writing skills outside the comfortable world of Simon Snow.
Rainbow Rowell brings the Fangirl characters to life by showing their flaws as well as their strengths, with carefully selected details. Cath fears new situations so much that she spends a month eating protein bars in her dorm room rather than facing the daunting prospect of the cafeteria. Wren may be more outgoing and socially adept than Cath, but she’s also more susceptible to peer pressure, which Cath proves largely able to resist. Their father is brilliant advertiser—“a real Mad Man”—but doing this job means not taking the medications that might help him keep his manic episodes under control. Rowell paints a very sympathetic portrait of mental illness in Mr. Avery, one more example of her ability to write misfits we can all sympathize with and want to root for.
Other than Cath’s family, there are three important secondary characters: her somewhat abrasive new roommate, Reagan; Reagan’s some-time boyfriend Levi, to whom Reagan appears to be less than faithful; and Nick, Cath’s new writing partner for class, who is handsome, but doesn’t seem interested in talking to her about anything besides writing. New friendships and new romantic prospects force Cath to confront the prejudice and confusion of people who don’t understand her interest in fanfiction. Fan fiction is such a big part of her life that others can’t really know her unless she reveals this aspect of herself. Appropriately then, Cath’s narrative is mingled with excerpts from both the canon Simon Snow works—parallel to Harry Potter in many ways—and Cath’s fanfiction from throughout the years. These excerpts provide both a counterpoint to Cath’s everyday life, and insight into her online world. Writers have displayed a wide variety of attitudes towards fanfiction over the years, from cautiously optimistic to overtly hostile, but I can think of nothing that quite compares to the way Rowell delves into the interior life a fan with Cath’s character. (If you can think of any other similar works, please share in the comments!)
For those who criticized Eleanor & Park as a nostalgia book because of its 1980s setting, Rowell has proved that she can bring the same resonance and attention to detail to a story set in the present day. Fangirl is a coming-of-age story, but one with the ability to appeal to those who are merely remembering this stage of life, as well as those who are experiencing it. Introverts and misfits of all types will likely find Cath extremely relatable.
Just a reminder that today is the last day to participate in a Rafflecopter giveaway for a signed first edition of The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, which I’m giving away in celebration of Required Reading’s first birthday. You have until 9pm PST to enter!