Rainbow Rowell (Twitter) (Facebook)
Audiobook read by Rebecca Lowman and Maxwell Caulfield
St. Martins Griffin (September 2013), Hardcover (ISBN 1250030951 / 9781250030955)
Fiction (YA), 448 pages
Source: Purchased audiobook (Random House Audio, 2013, ISBN 9780804121286; Audible ASIN B00E9YYT64)
It doesn’t happen often–at least, not for me–but sometimes you go into a book just knowing it’s going to hit some of your sweet spots. Like so many other readers, I fell hard for Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park. I already knew how vividly and realistically she could render characters, and as a self-professed, late-blooming “fangirl” myself, the premise of her most recent novel was a real hook for me. In addition, Fangirl‘s audiobook was read by Rebecca Lowman, who has become on of my favorite narrators. I expected a good reading experience from Fangirl, and it surpassed my expectations.
Up until a few weeks before she left for college, Cath Avery largely defined herself in three ways: a twin, a fan, and a girl without a mother. Her foundation is shaken when she learns her sister Wren doesn’t intend to share a dorm room with her at the University of Nebraska. Her world is rocked when she finds out that her mother–who left their family when Cath and Wren were in third grade, on September 11, 2001–has been in contact recently with both her father and her sister. And the story of young magician Simon Snow is just months away from its final installment–what will Cath’s life be without the series of books and movies that she’s not only grown up with, but which has allowed her to explore her own creativity through writing fiction inspired by it?
Eleanor and Park was an unconventional high-school love story; Fangirl is an unconventional coming-of-age college story crossed with a first-love story and flavored with modern Internet-based fan culture. I think that’s a pretty ambitious undertaking, and I think it succeeds at just about every level. I spent a few months lurking around a Harry Potter fanfiction site a few years ago–reading only, never writing–and based on that brief experience, it seems to me that Rowell really gets that angle of the story. Perhaps she could have said more about fandom, but I think she’s employed it appropriately for the story she really wants to tell–and the fact that Fangirl has inspired a fanfiction archive of its own strikes me as a most appropriate accolade to that.
But even more than “getting” fandom, Rowell gets what makes characters fully realized and deeply human, and I especially appreciate her ability to depict complicated relationships in dialogue that rarely rings false or calculated. Rebecca Lowman (literally) gives voice to it all perfectly, although there were fleeting moments I forgot I wasn’t listening to her reading of Sisterland, another Midwest-set novel involving twins. She and Rowell are quickly becoming a go-to pairing for me, and Fangirl made for a delightful week of reading by ear.
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? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?
“There was a boy in her room.
Cath looked up at the number painted on the door, then down at the room assignment in her hand.
Pound Hall, 913.
This was definitely room 913, but maybe it wasn’t Pound Hall—all these dormitories looked alike, like public housing towers for the elderly. Maybe Cath should try to catch her dad before he brought up the rest of her boxes. ‘You must be Cather,’ the boy said, grinning and holding out his hand. ‘Cath,’ she said, feeling a panicky jump in her stomach.”