After looking through my drafts file for last weeks Top Ten Tuesday, I felt inspire to attempt to publish some of those drafts, including this basically fully written one. Here is my review of Fangirl, a novel centring on first year university student Cath, looking to find love and a new life at university.
Cath’s character, as a socially awkward fangirl with an obsession for Simon Snow, presumably plays of being very relatable to the die hard Harry Potter fan. I struggled to see myself in Cath, relating slightly to her shy approach to the world but finding her obsession with Simon Snow memorabilia and Fanfiction more like a 13 year old than most first year university students.
Cath’s lack of interest in her university life was disappointing as she continues to prioritises her Fanfiction over her friends, boyfriend and assignments. Cath’s character encounters some personal development throughout the novel, however, it was stifled. Seeing her create new friendships, enter social spheres and the changing relationship with her family are moments many university student would recognise, Fangirl doing well to present a subset of the tiring set of social trials first year university presents.
However, I found Cath’s selfish attitudes and unwillingness to change, her reluctance to enjoy university and slight judgemental attitude towards those who do, her assumption to expect the worst of everyone grating and stifling to the growth of Rowell’s protagonist.
As for the other characters in the novel I found them to be well developed. Although Cath does not meet the variety of people most students do in their first year the handful she does meet are well written with complex backstories. I enjoyed reading Ragen and Levi’s background and watching Cath’s relationship develop with the pair however felt more could have done with Wren. I felt the reader was almost meant to judge Wren for wanting to meet new people at university and step away from the FanFiction Beta reading twin sister that seems more akin to a twelve year old than an eighteen year old. I was disappointed the plot justified Cath’s harsh judgement of her sister and the option of actually growing up and discovering yourself at university is never presented to the reader.
Rowell’s writing style throughout Fangirl was light hearted and easy to read. With sparse descriptions, long dialogues and the odd moment of Cath’s spiralling emotions Fangirl is a quick and easy read. Although this simple style was effective for the prose I would have preferred Cath’s writing style in her FanFiction to have differed more from the narrative and similarly for the writing in the extracts of the Simon Snow novels to have also taken on a different tone. This would have added more variety to the novel, although honestly, the Simon Snow extracts felt out of place and pointless.
University was a life changing three years for me, and no doubt for many students, so I was pleased to see this unusual aspect reflected in Fangirl. With students haunts like the library, a cheesy bar and a student halls creating the backdrop Rainbow Rowell sets a familiar scene that is rarely described in literature. I feel slightly more could have been done with this as Cath’s closed minded approach means she doesn’t have all the university experience many students will recall: first trip to a club, joining societies, meeting a strange mix of flatmates. However, Cath gaining so much freedom in her work and social life, learning what she will prioritise as she studies a subject for herself rather than the hoop jumping exercise of school, sets a familiar tone to the novel.
The majority of the novel sets a smooth and even pace focussing on Cath’s relationships with her family, Levi, Raegan and Nick. However the pacing presents a problem as the novel begins to draw to a close: with Cath’s assignment deadlines looming, her desperation to finish her FanFiction Carry On, the thrill of a new romance and the whirlwind that is the conclusion to the first year university its understandable the last few pages might feel crammed.
As Fangirl concludes a multitude of storylines emerge, from Levi and Cath’s first fight, Cath’s insecurities about her sister and a confusing and almost random plot development with Nick the novel attempts to encompass what could have been a hundred pages of fleshed out plot points in thirty quick moments of little disasters that fix themselves within a manner of seconds, strung together in a random sequence that left me feeling disjointed and wondering which of the mini endings would actually be the end.
The plot contained interesting elements that draws on the university experience, however it suffers from the poor pacing and random resolutions mentioned above. The inclusion of Cath’s family and academic struggles are well balanced and created a novel that showed a subset of what university life is like.
Overall I found the novel’s premise intriguing. I would have preferred a more detailed narrative and for the Simon Snow chapters to add more to the context of the novel while Cath’s FanFiction could have provided a variety of writing styles that would make them stand out from the other chapters. My main issue for a low rating revolves around the judgemental protagonist and a lack of enthusiasm for university life, which was the reason I picked up the novel in the first place.
You can find more of my reviews here and also over on my goodreads.