St. Marti’s Griffin, Sept 2013
When I find a top-notch book, one that moves me emotionally or makes me think or stays in my head for a long time, I want to find out what other books the author has written. I’m sure you do the same. Occasionally I’m disappointed, but not often. I find that good writers have more than one good story inside them.
In February I told you about my experience reading Eleanor and Park. It’s one of my favorite books of those I’ve read in the last few years. The characters of Park and Eleanor felt so real to me that I wanted to read Rainbow Rowell’s other books. She has two more: Attachments, an adult novel, and, this one, FanGirl, another young adult. I found it in audio at the library.
My granddaughter Q recommended it to me as she did Eleanor and Park. Q also explained what “fan fiction” is and told me of some fan fiction she has written. I like the idea of continuing a favorite story and characters. I’d like to try it myself one of these days. But, let’s get back to FanGirl.
FanGirl is the story of Cath and her first year at the University of Nebraska. Up to this point in her life, Cath has done almost everything with her identical twin, Wren. Now things are different. Wren sees college as a time to experience new things on her own. That means parties, drinking, college men, etc. Wren makes friends easily so she jumps right in. She’s not challenged when it comes to social situations. Cath is the opposite. In fact, rather than eat her meals in the cafeteria by herself, Cath eats protein bars everyday for weeks.
When Wren wanted to live in a separate dorm from Cath, Cath tried to get a room by herself. Instead, she is paired with a roommate, Reagan, who also wanted a room by herself. At first, neither one wants to be with the other. Cath finds Reagan totally objectionable. Reagan always kicks open the door to their room, and talks and acts gruff and blustery. The two clash from the start. But Reagan is smart and has a heart. She takes pity on Cath and browbeats her into going to the cafeteria with her. Gradually, they form an odd friendship.
Reagan has a sort-of boyfriend, Levi, who hangs around their room a lot. When Cath comes back to the room, he is almost always sitting outside in the hallway, waiting. Cath finds herself spending more time with Levi than Reagan does. It’s impossible not to like Levi. Everyone does. But — he is Reagan’s boyfriend.
Although Cath has loads of challenges this first year, there is one positive thing in her life that Cath loves and is quite passionate about – writing fan fiction. She’s actually quite good at it. She’s been writing for several years now and has hundred of thousands of readers to attest to how good she is.
What Cath has been writing is the Simon Snow (think Harry Potter) fan fiction. She’s taken the characters from the novels and given them new lives and new adventures. There are passages from the Simon Snow novels and then passages from Cath’s version of Simon Snow. Cath’s are equal to the original writing, maybe even a little more creative.
There is no doubt, Cath is a good writer. She was allowed to take an advanced fiction class with a respected writer as the professor. When Cath turns in some of her fan fiction for an assignment, the professor doesn’t consider that real fiction. She says Cath is plagiarizing. This raises the whole subject of what actually constitutes fiction.
There is so much for the reader to think about in this book in addition to the fan fiction controversy. There’s the subject of homosexuality, excessive drinking, reading disorders, mothers who abandon their children, mental disease, forging one’s own identity as we move into adulthood and more.
Yes, a lot to think about, but more important to me is the story of these young people who I’m convinced are real people. There’s a beautiful story of first love interspersed in here, as well as a close-up look at the inner workings of a family that’s been abandoned by the mother. Over it all we see Cath as she moves closer to being an independent adult.
FanGirl – another winner by Rainbow Rowell. Thanks so much to Q for steering me to the author. Q’s mom, Candice, also just finished reading this book. As Candice said, this is another “Three-Generation-Read-It-And-Loved-It” book. Amazing, isn’t it? That should be recommendation enough.