As soon as I heard about Rainbow Rowell's novel Fangirl, I knew I had to have it. The story of a shy and nerdy girl in her first year at university, who spends more time in the world of her favourite books than in the real world? Gimme! Ellie sent me this book as my Christmas present, and I spent a good chunk of Christmas Day reading the book, once the presents had been opened, lunch had been eaten and everyone was feeling a bit sleepy and unsociable.
Although nerds have started to become a little more mainstream these days, with the popularity of shows such as The Big Bang Theory and the popular kids proudly wearing words like "Geek" and "Dork" on their T-shirts that were always insults when I was a kid, there isn't an awful lot of representation of girl geeks at the moment. Sure, there is the awkward Amy and brainy Bernadette in The Big Bang Theory, but I want to see girls in fandom. Girls in the comic book store. Cosplay girls. An exploration of the differences between girl-geeking and boy-geeking (broadly speaking: ie Trekkie boys obsessing over starships, Trekkie girls obsessing over relationships.) Fangirl helps to fill that gap. Protagonist Cath's method of geeking out is to write fanfiction of her favourite series of books, Simon Snow. Simon Snow is clearly based on the Harry Potter books, but from the extracts we read, takes the plot in quite different directions. I wondered how much of Simon Snow itself stemmed from Potter fanfiction, as some of its storylines could be very interesting if applied to the Potterverse.
Fangirl brought back a lot of memories of my own sixth form and university days - like Cath, I once submitted a piece of fanfiction (in my case a poem based on Lord of the Rings) as part of my application to one university's creative writing programme. I didn't get accepted onto that course, and I still wonder whether it was because my poem could have been considered, like Cath's story, "plagiarism" - or whether it just wasn't any good. It certainly wasn't subtle. When I was at uni, one of my classmates produced a poem inspired by Torchwood, but she named no names and the poem was a success. I felt annoyed with Cath's professor for failing her assignment for reasons of "plagiarism", but I wondered whether she was write to do so, depending on what the criteria was for the class. If the goal is to produce a story of publishable standard, then no matter how creative and well-written a piece of fanfiction might be, it would still be in breach of copyright.
Aside from the world of fandom, Cath faces other challenges in her new life at university. She is a twin, who up until now has always followed her sister's lead, but now Wren has got a different roommate, is living in a different dorm, leaving Cath to fend for herself. (Cather and Wren - even their names indicate that they are two halves of a whole.) Although I really enjoyed reading about Cath's early days at university, it was marred slightly by flashbacks to Rebecca Harrington's Penelope, for no other reason than the American university setting and the socially awkward protagonist. It improved once I started to get to know the characters, and I really liked Cath's roommate Reagan and her friend Levi. As well as her shyness and anxiety disorder, Cath had to deal with a lot of family issues: a father with bipolar disorder, an absent mom getting back in touch after over ten years and a sister going off the rails. Yet throughout all their ups and downs, despite the times when they seem to be drifting apart, they are kept together by their family ties. Cath, Wren and their father come across as a very believable, far from perfect but loving family.
Although there was a teased love triangle early on, ultimately it didn't go anywhere, instead focusing on a lovely and believable depiction of a first love with one party's fear and trust issues, the combined passion and shyness. The small details made it real.
Fangirl is a celebration of family, friendships, growing up, falling in love with a boy and falling in love with writing, all centred around the fandom community. A really cosy and heartwarming read.
"I feel sorry for you, and I'm going to be your friend.""I don't want to be your friend," Cath said as sternly as she could. "I like that we're not friends.""Me too," Reagan said. "I'm sorry you ruined it by being so pathetic."
"You give away nice like it doesn't cost you anything. Levi laughed. "It doesn't cost me anything. It's not like smiling at strangers exhausts my overall supply.""Well, it does mine."
To really be a nerd, she'd decided, you had to prefer fictional worlds to the real one.
That was the beauty in stacking up words -- they got cheaper, the more you had of them.