I meant to wait, I really did, but it turns out I had no willpower. I started reading Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell, as soon as I’d finished reading Eleanor & Park, and it was just as good. It struck me as less original, though, because it reminds me an awful lot of Pamela Dean’s novel Tam Lin, with the small college setting, the girl who is intensely caught up in what she reads, and the mysterious boys who are not what they seem. The implicit comparison this set up in my head between writing fanfic (as Rowell’s protagonist Cath does) and reading so much early modern literature that you feel like everything in your life relates to it (as Dean’s protagonist does) made me identify with Cath when I might not have otherwise, seeing as how she’s the age of my kids and writes fic about “Simon Snow,” a very Harry-Potter-like character.
I like the way Rowell makes it clear that Simon Snow is not Harry Potter, by including chapters from the fictitious Simon Snow books and by having Cath’s friend Levi, in a discussion about the way Cath writes Simon and his roommate Baz as if they love each other, say “It’s hard for me to get my head around. It’s like hearing that Harry Potter is gay. Or Encyclopedia Brown.”
The relationship between Cath and her father is fun (and it reminds me of the relationship between Janet and her father in Tam Lin). The father designs ad campaigns, and when they have a conversation about one of the products, this is what they say:
“It’s revolting,” he said. “It’s like dog food for people. Maybe that’s what we should have pitched…’Do you secretly want to eat dog food? Does the smell of it make your mouth water?'”
Cath joined in, in her best announcer’s voice: “Is the only thing keeping you from eating dog food the fear that your neighbors will notice all the cans–and realize that you don’t have a dog?”
I most identify with Cath when she decides she doesn’t want to take the kind of creative writing class that would prepare her to “write books about decline and desolation in rural America.” And when she tries to go talk to the professor and can’t quite get to her office:
“This was Cath’s third time back in Andrews Hall since she got her grades back.
The first two times, she’d walked in one end of the building and walked straight through to the door on the other side.
This time was already better. This time, she’d stopped to use the bathroom….
maybe she’d just change her concentration from Creative Writing to Renaissance Lit; that would be useful in the real world, a head full of sonnets and Christ imagery. If you study something that nobody cares about, does that mean everyone will leave you alone?”
I identify with the way Cath shows emotion: “in no circumstance would Cath ever run squealing down the hall into his arms. But she did her version of that—she smiled tensely and looked away.”
I don’t identify with the way Cath deals with her mother, who left when she and her twin sister, Wren, were only 8 years old, but I love her bravery the first time she sees her mother, ten years later, when Wren is in the hospital and they have this conversation:
“Don’t make this about me,” Laura hissed. “You obviously don’t want me here.”
“I’m making it about me,” Cath said. It’s not my job to want you or not want you. It’s not my job to earn you.”
“Cather”—Laura’s mouth and fists were tight—“I’ve reached out to you. I’ve tried.”
“You’re my mother,” Cath said. Her fists were even tighter. “Try harder.”
I also like the way Cath can see things clearly, like what’s put Wren in the hospital: “Wren was out of control. She was the worst kind of out of control—the kind that thinks it’s just fine, thanks.”
Most of all, I love Levi. Near the end of the novel, when Cath and Wren are getting along better, Cath and Levi have fallen in love, and Wren is dating a friend of Levi’s, he has the audacity to suggest a double date and he and Cath have this exchange:
“Maybe we should go on lots of double dates,” Cath said, “and then we can get married on the same day in a double ceremony, in matching dresses, and the four of us will light the unity candle all at the same time.”
“Pfft,” Levi said. “I’m picking out my own dress.”
They are a good couple. And there are three happy endings: one for Cath, one for Simon Snow, and one for English literature, which looks like it’s going to get more from Cath than fanfic, at the end of this novel.
I’m glad I’ve lived long enough to see being a “fan” become respectable. It feels to me the way some of my friends feel about being a “nerd” or a “geek” becoming respectable—like this is something I’ve always done and now there’s a name for it, and other people are admitting they do it.
Are you a fan? What do you get all fangirlish over?