I finally got myself straight and read ‘Fangirl’ by Rainbow Rowell and I just have to say… I think I’ll be adding a new author to my “Favorites” list! Here’s what the cover says:
“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 fanfiction, 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 fanfiction 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? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?”
I’ll admit, I’m not completely like Cath (I am in no way capable of writing FanFic like her!) but I could relate to her on many levels. To start with, the reasons she writes are the same reasons I read: “To be somewhere else. To get free of ourselves. To stop being anything or anywhere at all. To disappear.” Studies have shown that reading for as little as ten minutes or less can reduce stress levels by more than two thirds. It really doesn’t matter what it is you read – Fiction, biographies, history, manga, take your pick – It’s like an automatic reset for your brain. As someone that has to manage stress levels on a daily basis, lest I cause my disease to act up, reading has become a sort of medication or therapy. Even on busy days, I work in at least a chapter or two. I need to disappear into another world like some people need breath. It’s hard to understand unless you are a total bookworm like me (luckily a few of my friends and family fall into this category). I’d completely say it is an addiction. I may take a few days or a week break after a particularly heavy book or a series that I’m not totally over but after a while, the craving to get lost comes back. Half the time, if you look in my car, you’ll find a book somewhere in there. I carry one to work to read on my breaks. I have a couple on my nightstand, a few on the dining room table, one on the coffee table and a stack on the breakfast bar. I won’t even start on the “Holds” list at my local library or the “Wishlist” on Amazon and Goodreads. To say I love to read, is an understatement! So I completely understood Cath’s desperate need to immerse herself in her fanfic writing. It’s cathartic.
The other part of this book that touched me was Levi. I swear, I think Ms. Rowell hid in the woods by my house and studied my husband! The physical description was eerily on point. Levi has a crazy widow’s peak, blond hair, and is just shy of six feet tall. He’s also kind of willowy and awkward like he hadn’t quite grown into his long limbs yet. Mister has since filled out and is in better command of himself but that was totally him when we started dating in college. He keeps his hair cropped short but otherwise, it’s a total mess and sticks up all over the place, and I love straightening the point of hair on his forehead. However, the similarities didn’t stop there… My husband is always stealing my food and drinks (like Levi). Everybody seems to love him (like Levi). And he has difficultly reading certain types of books (like Levi!). According to my husband, when he reads fiction (especially a portion with dialogue), is all seems to run together in his head. He can’t separate the different characters; when they’re speaking or the narrator is just giving a description. It’s all run-on sentences in his mind. Levi explained it like this: “It’s like I can’t focus. Like I read the same paragraph over and over, and I still don’t know what it says. Like the words go right through me and I can’t hold on to them.” Don’t misunderstand me, Mister is brilliant! He can pick up a manual or textbook and totally rock it out. His brain just doesn’t process fiction writing. My father happens to have the same problem.
So how does a confirmed book addict and a guy that doesn’t really read come together? You guessed it! The bookworm reads to the boy. Just like Cath does with Levi. It’s not always easy, sometimes we’re on total different wavelengths; like when I throw a fit because the movie completely jacked up a plot point (Mister tends to laugh at me) or I use a “big word” (typically followed by a confused look from him) or when I gently correct his vocabulary choices (insert sarcastic husband eye roll). As Cath puts it, “This is why I can’t be with Levi. Because I’m the kind of girl who fantasizes about being trapped in a library overnight – and Levi can’t even read.” Luckily for us, we do have other things in common. We both love history and travel for example. When we explore a Civil War battlefield, he drives, I read the tour book out loud. When we visit a new vineyard or distillery, he wanders around listening to the tour guide, I ask questions about what I’ve read regarding the place. It’s a balancing act, I guess. Ha-ha!
Even Cath’s innocence cracked me up and struck home. Here she was, writing love scenes between Simon and Baz, but she’d never really “made out” with a guy. My favorite part was when they were kissing in Levi’s room and she kept thinking, “I’m not going to think about what is going on in his lap. That’s completely uncharted territory and it can stay that way!” She was utterly clueless when he raised his knees afterwards and refused to let her sit in his lap again. Cath also worried that she wouldn’t measure up to Levi’s other sexual partners. The dichotomy between what she wrote as MagiCath and how she was in real life was adorable. She was teased by Wren for being a virgin but I’m happy that Levi never pushed her on taking it to that level. He was happy waiting for her until she was ready. I stayed a virgin through high school and most of college too so I understood Cath’s reluctance. Don’t misunderstand, I was no prude! I completely got the desire and need to have a physical relationship with your significant other. I was utterly aware of sex and all that it implies. I just hadn’t found a guy I liked enough to be intimate. Being diagnosed with a disease as a child has a tendency to build emotional walls and that in turn keeps a lot of people, even boyfriends, at arms length. Amazingly though, I met a great guy that was willing to wait for me to be ready too. I guess it worked out because I did eventually marry him.
While Cath and Levi are pretty much the main characters in the book, the supporting characters were also well fleshed out. Cath’s roommate, Reagan, was abrasive and in my opinion, a bit of a bully at times but that’s exactly what Cath needed to grow into herself. It afforded Cath the opportunity to grow a thicker skin. Ms. Piper, the Fiction-Writing professor, reminded me so much of my high school English teachers. I was a bit of a slacker at times (I hate being told what to read and how to process it) but they always pushed me to push back. To challenge myself to see what’s below the surface of the writing and the obvious answer. To let my natural writing voice out instead of keeping it locked away. Even Dad was lovable, albeit probably not a perfect role model because he was bi-polar and didn’t always take his medications.
Okay, enough gushing on what I loved about this story. I would be remiss if I didn’t fill you in on some of the down sides of this book too. A friend put it best: None of the heavier themes were resolved. Ms. Rowell chose to left them open ended for whatever reason. Some people don’t care for that. For instance, Mom pops in Cath and Wren’s lives just long enough to cause chaos then leaves again. Cath and Wren never really resolve how they feel about her. Wren’s drinking almost costs her big time and we see the punishment but never learn how she handles it. Dad promises to be better about taking care of himself but still refuses to take his Bi-Polar medication, instead he relies on running and the girls to keep him sane. How will that play out during Cath’s Sophomore year of college. It’s hinted that Cath and Levi take their relationship to the next level but not really stated. Not that that’s truly necessary but I’m invested in Cath and would love to know how she felt about it. We also aren’t privy to how they’ve decided to make their relationship work while on summer break and living in two different towns. In spite of that, I feel this book was awesome and would totally recommend it to my fellow “fangirls”!
I’ll close with this excerpt written by MagiCath that completely sums up my feelings regarding putting my books down and going to work today:
“I just don’t want to,” Simon said. “Don’t want to what?” Baz asked. He was sitting on his desk, eating an apple. He left the apple in his teeth and started tying his green and purple school tie. Simon still had to use a mirror for that. Even after seven years. “Anything.” Simon said, pressing his head back into his pillow. “I don’t want to do anything. I don’t even want to start this day because then I’ll be expected to finish it.”
P.S. I will say that I like ‘Carry On’ slightly better. The Youth Librarian at our local library, said that many people preferred ‘Fangirl’. As she put it, I guess they were expecting them to be alike. I would like to take a moment to clarify something that might be a possible reason for this disapproval of ‘Carry On’… In my opinion, having read both, it feels like ‘Carry On’ is written from MagiCath’s point of view, not Ms. Rowell’s. A character writing about characters, if you will. So to expect the tone to be the same, would be a disservice to both books. Just keep that in mind if you choose to pick up one or the other.
My Rating: 4.0/5.0 Bookmarks!
(Photo Credit: Goodreads)