Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Book Review - Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Published by: St. Martin's Griffin
Publication Date: September 10th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 448 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Cath Avery is off to a rough start at college. Not only does her twin sister Wren not want to be roommates, but she's saddled with the sarcastic and cynical Reagan as her roommate, and Reagan's ever present Levi. Plus she doesn't know where the dining hall is. All Cath wants to do is bury herself in school while working on her Simon Snow fanfic, Carry On Simon. Simon Snow might just be one of the reasons Wren is distancing herself from her sister, as that young wizard and there made-up stories are their juvenile past, not their adult future. But Cath doesn't care, she just wants to write about Simon and Baz. Though her Professor doesn't think that fanfic is anything other then plagiarism. Add in a crush on Levi, the girl's father Arthur having a breakdown, and Wren developing a drinking problem, and it's not surprising that Cath might not "carry on" but move back home and hide from the world.      

I had read online about this new book coming out and I dutifully went to Barnes and Noble and picked it up and brought it home and watched as it was subsumed into my "to be read" pile. The book was getting good reviews, why else would I buy it? And then my friends started reading it, and that's when the real pressure started. You must read this book, the author is the one true successor to John Hughes! The perfect book for Harry Potter fans, and you're a Harry Potter fan so get on it! The five star and occasional four star reviews started littering my goodreads page and I realized that the time had come to bite the bullet. The time had come to read Fangirl. 

I can see why Fangirl has been so recommended to me, but there's another part of me that thinks, naw, it wasn't all that. The book is banking on nostalgia, and it all really depends on if you are in the mood to look back. Do you want to remember what those first few months of college were like? Do you want to remember when a book's release was your entire world? Sometimes yes. Yes I do. Other times? I don't. I waffled while reading Fangirl, part of me was revelling in the past, while another part of me was thinking things struck a little too close to home and that perhaps reading it while in the darkest depths of holiday melancholia is not the way to enjoy a book. 

One thing though I will dispute till my dying day is this book isn't John Hughes, this book is Pauly Shore. No seriously, think about it. John Hughes, in his classic films, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful, all deal with the high school experience. Whereas Paul Shore in Son in Law is all about the harsh realities of adjusting to college life and dorm life in particular till you finally just embrace the weird. Just swap out Nebraska for it's neighboring state of South Dakota and viola! Pauly Shore is the voice of a generation just as John Hughes was. A slightly more annoying version, but I defy you to not watch a few minutes of Son in Law if you find it on television late one night. And I double dog dare you to not find some kindred link between the movie and this book.

Getting back to topics more directly related to the book and not involving Pauly Shore, I would say that I strongly identify as a "Fan Girl." Look at my office and you'll find Doctor Who and Firefly and Red Dwarf and Harry Potter. I go to Wizard World Comic Con and "stalk" stars. I go to book signings and covet books from my favorite authors. You will get my signed copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince when you prize it from my cold hands! Yet I am not of the fanfic Fan Girl variety. I fell between the gaps on this. I didn't stay home as a kid writing new Doctor Who episodes in lined journals hoping to be a writer on the show. Yeah, I drew the occasional TARDIS on my notebooks, but that's as far as that went.

As for the true fanfic generation, they are younger then me. Kids that were actually kids when Harry Potter was released. Kids who were web and Internet savvy in the womb who went straight home from school to log on and write about Draco and Harry and what their newest adventure was. Or if you're Cassandra Clare, steal it from one of those kids. I know about this culture, I'm just not a part of this aspect of it. Plus, well, I'm not without issues to this either. I've been known to write in the voice of others, it's a talent that some people possess, and obviously Cath excels at it. But I'm with her teacher, Professor Piper, it's not a substitute for real writing. It's an exercise in writing but it can never be anything more. Unless you somehow land a book contract with BBC Books and end up writing official Doctor Who books... then we'll talk.

But did this book wow me? Did it dazzle my eyes and make me sing it's praises. No, it kind of let me down. It embraces my geeky nature, but an offshoot to which I don't belong. It calls to the graphic designer in me with the depiction of Arthur Avery, but his obsessive nature and mental instability was just too real for me. I've come very close to the precipice that he lives on and I like to be entertained when I read, not to look in a warped mirror of might-have-been or might-still-become. Plus the sacrifice of life versus caring for a parent? Yeah, that stung. And little details eventually started to get under my skin till I wanted to scream. Had Levi ever heard of Audible? Seriously, if you "can't read" you find a better way then someone reading aloud to you. Also, little Britishisms! Um, does Rainbow Rowell know about the "Carry On" franchise? Cause that's all about music hall and lowbrow comedy. It's all about the bawdy and all I can think of is if the characters in any of those productions heard about Simon and Baz there response would be "Oh, er, naughty!" My response to this book's hype? "Er, whatever."


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