So you haven't read the books?
“You’ve read the books?”
“I’ve seen the movies.”
Cath rolled her eyes so hard, it hurt. (Actually.) (Maybe because she was still on the edge of tears. On the edge, period.) “So you haven’t read the books.”
“I’m not really a book person.”
“That might be the most idiotic thing you’ve ever said to me”
I have quite a lot of feelings about Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl. I read her Eleanor & Park earlier this year and I loved it, so much, you don’t even know. It’s for that reason that I had quite high expectations for Fangirl. That’s a thing I do you see, I fall in booklove hard and fast and then set what is probably an unrealistically high bar, that the poor writer in question has to try and reach with all their future offerings. Few do. I’m a little sad to say, actually, that Rowell is not one of the few. Le sigh.
That’s not to say though that I don’t think this is ‘a good book’ because I do. I just don’t think it’s ‘as good as…’ and that’s irrelevant anyway because I’m not here to make a comparison. What I am here to say is that I read Fangirl and it made me feel all the things.
I think the beauty of it is, is that a lot of people will relate to the story and to its protagonist, Cath.
I could. I could because Cath is like an extreme version of me. She’s quiet and she’s introverted; she suffers from social anxiety; she prefers books to people and the written word to the spoken; things that are new make her feel sick and she lived off protein bars for a while because she was so scared of navigating the college canteen. I am that girl. Not to the extremes Cath is but still, so much of the way she feels about day to life made me just ache with familiarity.
Most of the time I let my phone go to voice-mail and then send a text right after because some days talking is hard and I hide from the doorbell and the thought of being in a room full of people I don’t know – or some days even people I know – is enough to make me come out in a sweat. Sometimes I have plans with people I actually really want to spend time with and right up until the moment I am knocking on their actual door I am coming up with excuses in my head, excuses that will mean I don’t have see them, and can instead just be home with my book and maybe fire texts back and forth for a few hours. It’s not because I don’t love them – I do, I really do – and it’s not because I’m boring or miserable, it’s just because it’s hard. 95% of the time it feels like I imagine a parachute jump would: I have to gear myself up to do it – the being social – and once I do, I love it, and it’s fun and amazing and exhilarating. & then once it’s over I am drained and I have to go home and read a book and recharge.
& so for that alone, Cath, of the world of Fangirl, LET ME LOVE YOU.
“Underneath this veneer of slightly crazy and mildly socially inept, I'm a complete disaster.”
And then, there is fandom because, as the title suggests, Cath is a fangirl.
“How do you not like the Internet? That's like saying, 'I don't like things that are convenient. And easy. I don't like having access to all of mankind's recorded discoveries at my fingertips. I don't like light. And knowledge.”
This part of the book was a delight. In a nutshell, Cath writes fanfiction about her favourite YA books, whereby the hero is in love with his nemesis. What Rowell has done here is so delightful it had me squealing; it was delightful because if you try and tell me that Simon Snow is not Harry Potter and this segment of the story was not born of Harry/Draco then I will laugh very loudly in your face. I may or may not have done a fair amount of unattractive snorting because God, it’s so damn obvious that Rowell knows her shit. I would love to know how active she’s been in her particular fandom of choice.
I – and if you know me then you probably know this – have been connected to fandoms previously: I’ve been on forums, I’ve read and I have written fanfiction (go on, judge me. I have not a care!); I know what you mean when you say ‘shipping’ (and that ‘you’re not talking about the delivery of a parcel); and if you ask me who my OTP is I won’t think you’re enquiring after my health. I’ll probably answer...maybe...perhaps. I might even rant at you about my feelings about canon (don’t talk to me please, about Nymphadora Tonks)
I was never all that excited about Harry/Draco myself but I was active enough in the Harry Potter fandom that they crossed my path and that I recognised the similarities here. I also know enough to be able to revel in the fandom world that Rowell has created for Cath. I know what it’s like to ship a pairing that isn’t canon; to read between every single line,; to grab hold of every single look or glance or word; to wait desperately for the release of a new book and to devour it in one sitting; to send and receive texts along the lines of ‘what I think is about to happen better not happen’ and then figure out my own ways to right those wrongs. I know what it’s like to fall in love with a fictional world so much that there’s never quite enough of it. I get it. I’ve lived it. Again, not to the extremes Cath does, but I get it all the same.
Cath’s fandom life however, will it kind of eclipses her ‘real’ life – she has more friends online than off, her latest fanfiction has a worldwide following – people are wearing it on t-shirts, are accepting her version as canon – and if she has to choose between going to class/eating/seeing her sister-roommate-boy she likes and Simon Snow, then she’ll chose Simon Snow every time. Real life doesn’t hold the same appeal for her as this world she has created for herself on the internet and what started as a way to continue to let these characters she loves so much live on outside of the pages of the novel they were born of, has quickly become an escape: somewhere she can exist whilst real life carries on without her.
You only have to visit LiveJournal or Archive of Our Own or Fanfiction.net to realise there are probably millions of people in the world like Cath and that’s what really struck me: Cath is just a girl, she’s a girl that people will read about and think ‘she’s just like me’ because she’s normal and flawed and she makes mistakes; nothing out of the ordinary happens to her, there’s no great revelation or dramatic, well, anything really. There’s just this girl, like all these other girls out there, and she gets to write her fanfiction and eat her protein bars and fight with her sister and worry about her Dad and freak the hell out about growing up and branching out into the big old world and then, she gets to fall in love.
What its saying this book, is ‘you’re ok. You keep doing what you’re doing and that’s fine, but look, do the other stuff too, because there are people out there who will enrich your life and they don’t live behind a computer screen, and, I know it seems scary but you can have it both ways and that’s OK You will be OK.’ & for people like Cath, like me, like those other girls reading this book – and I suspect you will only read this book if you’re a Cath yourself – that’s an important message. It’s nice to know that it’s OK to live in a world you’ve created or that has been created by other people like you; that it’s OK to find real life hard; that you don’t have to be like your extroverted sibling/lover/friend, because being like you is pretty fucking awesome. You don’t have to change, you just have to be. And also, you know, write your fanfic if you want, just don’t go all EL James all over the place.
It’s like Rainbow Rowell is writing to me, to you, to us and her insight is incredible.
Or maybe it’s not saying that at all. Maybe it’s just a book and I am over-analysing as per.
The point is, the message was there for me and I think I'd have loved the book a million times more if I’d read it ten years ago!
“Real life was something happening in her peripheral vision.”
And then there is the love story and as evidenced in E&P, Rowell writes first love really freaking well. Seriously though guys. THE LOVE STORY.
Ha. Honestly, I’ve just wanted an excuse to put that ^^ on my blog. Howeverrrrr, the lovely love story is lovely and Cath and her beau are adorable and the slow unfolding of their relationship is pretty damn sweet. It’s so refreshing to read a love story that’s real. It’s not OTT and dramatic, nobody watches anybody sleep in a creepy and inappropriate way, which, wait – I have a quote:
“Reagan was sitting up at Cath's desk when Cath woke up.
"Are you awake?"
"Have you been watching me sleep?"
"Yes, Bella. Are you awake?"
There are no dramatics, no overwhelming declarations, promises, heartaches. It’s all so refreshingly simple. Girl meets boy and to quote Kurt Hummel - damn, I’m totally still a fangirl aren’t I? – a touch of the fingertips is as sexy as it gets. Pretty much. The touches of the fingertips, the smiles, the glances, the holding of hands, those are the parts that matter at least. I loved it in E&P and I love it here: Rowell has this ability to write real, deep and intense attraction without the characters even needing to touch. In E&P the scenes where Park played with Eleanor’s sleeve made me feel like my chest was caving in. It’s the same here:
“…he tugged on her sleeve and looked down at their not-quite-touching hands. ‘It’s OK if you’re crazy’ he said softly.‘You don’t even know-‘‘I don’t have to know,’ he said, ‘I’m rooting for you.’”
WHAT IS AIR?
It’s all about the slow build and that’s what makes it real because it feels real: it’s not ridiculously fast and on the other side of the coin it’s not overflowing with angst. It’s just life and it’s super.
“You look so blindingly cute right now, I feel like I need to make a pinhole in a piece of paper just to look at you.”