Published: September 10th, 2013
By: Rainbow Rowell
St. Martin's Press
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, 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 the 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 believes 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?
Cath is a difficult character to read about. If there's one thing that Rainbow Rowell does more memorably than anything else, it's writing characters who are beyond everything else, realistic. Cath, for example is awkward, antisocial, set in her ways and would rather live in her fandoms on the internet than in real life. Cath isn't ready for anything to change and panics when her twin sister Wren doesn't want to be college roommates. Cath just wants to stay in her room, avoid the cafeteria by existing on granola/protein bars, and not make any new friends. Slowly though, her abrasive and stubborn roommate Reagan takes Cath under her wing, refusing to let her fade into the background. Cath loves her fiction class as well, but the professor doesn't believe in the validity of fan fiction, which is a major part of who Cath happens to be. Can Cath let go of the comfort of Simon Snow, boy wizard, and find a place for herself in the real world? And how can she bring Wren and Dad into this new life she's building, without destroying everything?
Like I said before Cath is difficult to read about. She's sarcastic, yet shy and insecure to the point of almost being a hermit. I understand wanting to shut yourself away from the world and I'm as guilty of it as anyone else. Only, my hiding place of choice was the library instead of my bedroom. I can empathize with Cath's inability to know what to say, or do in a social situation. Also, coming from a home life that is less than perfect, in which problems are largely ignored instead of being dealt with. But Cath begins to come into her own with the help of Reagan and her strange, but charming friend Levi. We also get to see just how far Wren has distanced herself from the situation in the other direction - doing things to draw attention to herself that are potentially harmful to herself and people around her (but mostly just herself). She wants to be the life of the party, but what price will she pay for it? Plus, there's Cath's writing "partner" Nick, who isn't what he first appears to be. I was highly impressed with the so-called secondary characters, who all add something important to the plot and move the story along. The relationship with her Dad is especially hilarious, touching and truthful. I love the interactions between them when Cath brings her boy home and also when Cath and her Dad stage an intervention on her sister.
A really big part of this book is about being geeky, letting your freak flag fly and still knowing how to get back to reality at the end of the day. Cath's big obsession is Simon Snow, who is her world's equivalent of Harry Potter (Except the book awkwardly mentions Potter as if they coexist. I choose to ignore this!). Cath is still waiting for the eighth book to come out, but has basically begun writing her own AU (alternate universe) version of it online, in her fan fiction community. "Carry On Simon" has become such a huge thing in the fandom that people are wearing t-shirts and Cath is getting thousands of views a day! I love the respect with which Rainbow treats fan fiction in this book. I feel like she gets that there's nothing wrong with sharing your imagination with others for fun (and free) even if it involves someone else's worlds. But she also knows that there's a fine line between having some geeky fun, and being unheathily obsessed. We also see a glimpse of the idea that fan fiction might be squelching Cath's desire to write original stuff, or even her ability to do it. My biggest disappointment in this was Cath not even attempting to make up her assignment for her fiction Professor. It felt like she just completely gave up. Also, I wanted to know what happened to Simon and Baz! But mostly, this is a novel that is a tale of self discovery, a family's journey to something better (if not perfect) and a story of first love in all it's unpredictability and tenderness. If you've read Rainbow Rowell before, her first and last name are the only two word of this review even necessary to you. If not, seek her out. Fangirl is wonderful, and just wait until you discover Eleanor and Park!
VERDICT: 4.5/5 Stars
**No money or favors were exchanged for this review. This book is now available in stores, online, or maybe even at your local library.**