Reviewed by Kim Miner Litton
With some authors, you really have to wait for their next project. By then, you wonder if they’ll be able to recapture the magic of that first book, or if you’ll love them same way. In fact, you wonder if you really ever liked them in the first place or if you are just remembering them more fondly in retrospect.
Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park exploded on the YA book scene in February of 2013; it was critically acclaimed and left many wondering what else we could expect from this new, exciting voice in realistic fiction. With John Green, Maureen Johnson, Libba Bray, and other big names of the YA community, we usually have to wait two to three years for a follow-up. Rowell, on the other hand, gave us Fangirl just a few months later, in September of 2013.
Luckily for those of us who are desperate for more Rainbow Rowell, she’s a prolific writer—something she learned from her years of writing fanfiction. That last bit is incredibly important to this book, because this story is about a young college student who writes epically long, painstakingly-crafted, Harry Potter-like fanfiction. And while in this story the books that young Cath writes are about “Simon Snow” not Harry Potter, the reader will have no doubt that what we are actually discussing is the world of Harry Potter/Draco Malfoy slash-fiction.
To the uninitiated in the fanfiction community, slash-fiction focuses on romantically or sexually pairing two characters from an existing universe or “fandom” who are of the same sex. Slash fiction has its roots in the very beginning of fanfiction, all the way back to those first intrepid fanzine writers who preferred to see Kirk and Spock kiss each other than some random alien female of the week.
I was thrilled to see this idea in a YA novel because while the idea of slash-fiction and spending hours and hours crafting fiction within someone else’s world just for fun might seem strange or foreign to some readers, teens have been a part of these communities for a long time. It appears that first generation of online fanfiction writers are now grown up and able to translate their experiences within that community into fiction for the younger generation. We all know about the success of a little fan fiction known as 50 Shades of Grey, but Rainbow Rowell is just one of a slew of YA writers who got their writing starts in fanfiction communities.
This book usually doesn’t get the love that Eleanor and Park does. The story is quite a bit more niche and a bit more plot driven compared to E&P’s more literary-like qualities. But, the truth is, I’m a sucker for this story simply because I am part of that niche group Cath represents. I, too, had trouble socializing and finding friends in college and found my solace through an online community. Cath’s father struggles with mental illness and I also had a father who I worried for constantly because I was not there to take care of him when I left for college. I completely understood her struggle between setting out on her own and keeping her ties to home (and childhood.) Cath watches her twin sister and roommate navigate the fun-loving, social scene of college easily and is left behind, and I know exactly how she feels.
While Fangirl is, in many ways, a slight, predictable, even silly love story, I’ll still always love it a bit more because it rang so true to me. I also think it’s important to all those young fanfiction writers out there to hear about why writing fanfiction is fine and good, but eventually you have to find your own voice.
Kim Miner Litton is a contributing editor of LitChat. Read her complete bio here.