I am the definition of a fangirl. Give me a band, movie, book, TV show with an awesome main character, be it pro/antagonist, and I will obsess until the ships come in. I’ll change my desktop, the home screen on my phone, buy all the merch, get symbols inked on my skin, change the way I speak, and judge people for not knowing my obsessions. Not only am I a fangirl, but I am a judgemental fangirl. if you don’t like Doctor Who or Cassandra Clare – or worse yet, you don’t know who or what I’m talking about – then why the hell would I talk to you?
Everyone is a fangirl about something. Even boys. But, of course, they’re called fanboys. There is always that one thing that gets under your skin and stays there. Something that you can theorise about for hours: linking the tiny details of your chosen fandom in a way that the creator probably wasn’t even aware of. It may not even be a fictitious thing you fangirl for. It could very easily be Apple products, cars, bikes, motorcycles, fishing, baking, anything at all. You don’t believe me? We all have that one relative who owns every possible fishing accessory known to humankind, right?
This is why a book like Fangirl is a profound achievement. This book explores all of the different facets of fangirlness and, most importantly, makes us fangirls feel accepted.
In most YA fiction that I read, the female lead is a strong, independent woman who charges (almost always) fearlessly into any situation and fights her way out. Or, you know, it’s a man that does the same thing. I love my beautiful protagonists. Clary, Tessa, Harry, Katniss, Cassandra, Magnus, Artemis. But they’re all brave and, usually, there is something unique and, therefore, important about them.
The protagonist in Fangirl is Cather Avery. (I misread one sentence in the whole entire book and for about 100 pages I thought Cather was a nickname. Nope. Her “mother” didn’t realise she was having twins, so when two baby girls popped out, she couldn’t be bothered coming up with a separate name. So Cathe and her twin sister Wren were born). Cather is shy, socially awkward, a writer, inexperienced in love, constantly outshone by her more outgoing sister, a caretaker, and a total fangirl for a series called ‘The World of Mages”, (which bears a slight resemblance to Harry Potter) specifically the main character Simon Snow. And, guess what? Cather writes fan fiction. She lives in Snow’s world, along with his nemesis-turned-lover (in Cather’s fiction Carry On, Simon anyway) Baz the vampire. She has actually won awards for her fan fiction – albeit online – and has one of the highest followings of any Simon Snow fiction.
Essentially, Cather is every fangirl who has ever lived.
I love Cather for her flaws. I love her for her authenticity. Rowell has done an amazing job of creating the fangirls’ fangirl. Cather can’t bring herself to leave her favourite imaginary world, even when reality starts setting in and it seems she has no choice, she would rather live in the World of Mages than reality. And, seriously, who can’t relate to that?
Of course, Cather has some pretty serious problems, so we see that the reason she disappears into her alternate reality may have something to do with a need to escape. She has anxiety issues, stemming from the Avery mother – Laura – abandoning her family on 9/11, but also from growing up with a manic father. For those of you who don’t know, according to the Black Dog Institute:
Mania is a state of heightened energy and euphoria – an elevation of mood. It is in direct contrast to depression. Mania can vary in severity from hypomania, where, in addition to mood and energy elevation, the person shows mild impairment of judgement and insight, to severe mania with delusions and a level of manic excitement that can be so exhausting that hospitalisation is required to control the episode.
Cather was the one who held her family together. When she had to leave for college and her partner-in-crime, Wren, decided to become independent, Cather suddenly found herself adrift without a lifeboat. I definitely felt that on my first day of uni. Except for the whole twin abandonment thing. So Cather has to worry about her dad, her classes, and her inability to want to make friends all by herself. It is some pretty heavy stuff. And even though Cather is definitely no Isabelle Lightwood or Katniss Everdeen, her brand of quiet, self-conscious strength definitely got my attention.
Which brings me to Levi. The love interest. I want to give Rowell props, yet again, for writing a character so different from the norm. Levi is not conventionally attractive. He’s too tall, too skinny, and is already starting to lose his hair. But he is a nice guy. The archetypal nice guy. Smiling at everyone, going out of his way to make everyone feel good about themselves, and offering, on more than one occasion, to go completely out of his way in order to help Cather out. Of course, he’s totally smitten by our bookish heroine, so that isn’t too out-of-the-ordinary. But Levi is simply nice. Pure. No ulterior motives. He actually shines out of the pages, as though Fangirl has its own personal sun.
My only beef with the Levi/Cather ship (Cathervi, sounds like “butterfly”? Or Lather?) is that Cather seems to reciprocate Levi’s feelings awfully fast. Maybe I misread a sentence again, but it seemed to me that, after that half asleep kiss, Cather was all of a sudden in love with Levi. I’d understand obsessing and I’d understand Cather questioning her emotions, but automatically feeling like all of a sudden Levi is the most alluring man on the planet? Nu-uh. No way. Especially since Cather is severely introverted, with massive trust issues. I doubt that she’d trust her emotions so quickly.
But my favourite part? Without question? Was Cather’s debate with her Professor about fan fiction. Everyone knows that arguments right:
Fan fiction is plagiarism.
Fan fiction is embellishing on the silences in a world that you know well.
Fan fiction isn’t real fiction.
Fan fiction is lazy.
Fan fiction is sleazy.
Fan fiction is for the fans.
Of course, turning in fan fiction as a writing assignment for college was a rookie mistake. But Cather is a freshman, so we’ll just let that slide. I love that Cather defends herself, and her work. I love that the idea that fan fiction is legitimised simply by this argument being included in Rowell’s work.
I am a massive believer in fan fiction. In fact, my very first entry on this blog was about fan fiction. Actually, let me rephrase, I am a believer in good fan fiction. Anything where the characters have been twisted to suit the author’s specificdesires for the characters is not OK. Not OK at all. Currently, I am reading a Johnlock fiction called The Quiet Man by ivyblossom. Set in a post-Reichenbach Fall world, this is the first Johnlock fic I’ve read that has managed to completely nail the Johnlock relationship. Even if I can already tell Sherlock and John are going to be hooking up by the end, for now this is a perfect fic.
Back to my point: fan fiction is a part of any fandom. There are some incredible writers who choose to write fan fiction, as opposed to writing their own works. Because, sometimes, these authors are more passionate about pre-existing characters than they could ever be about their own. Their stories are already set. Unless, of course, they decide to create their own worlds and apply that passion to something marketable. We would be inundated with quality reading if that started happening.
THIS DOES NOT INCLUDE Fifty Shades of Grey. Everyone knows that that awful trilogy started as a Twilight fan fiction, right? But it was horrifically written. I don’t understand why it was ever published. Even worse, because I don’t think that story was edited in the slightest before it was set and bound. But that’s enough cyberspace taken up by talking about those trashy “books”.
Basically, what I am trying to say is that I think Rainbow Rowell captured the life and passions of a fangirl perfectly, with some of the most down-to-earth and relatable characters that I have ever had the pleasure of reading. If you have ever belonged to a fandom, ever read fan fiction, ever written fan fiction, or if you simply love a truly wonderful YA novel then this book is definitely for you.