Fangirl Book Review: Fanfiction is Serious Business



Cath is a major fan of a popular book series, but more than being a fan, she’s a writer of an incredibly popular fan fiction series based on it. Previously, her twin sister Wren shared a love for the series, but they’ve gotten older and now Wren is finding new things to occupy her time. As Cath and Wren venture into university life, Cath is going to have to figure out just what she wants from life and whether she’s able to find her own identity.

Fangirl is apparently “a tale of fan fiction, family and first love” and is written Rainbow Rowell.


Straight out I am going to say that I loved reading this story. I picked it up from the Book Depository after it recommended it, though why I still don’t know given it isn’t similar to my usual purchases, but I’m really glad I added it to my reading list. I devoured this story and completely fell in love with Cath as she fumbles her way through her first year of university. With a twin sister distancing herself, a roommate who is sometimes hard to read, and a slow burning romance, this book is all kinds of sweet, amusing, heart-wrenching, and just plain adorable.


At 459 pages, it isn’t a one day read, but the writing style makes it a pure joy to read as you pick up each time. I loved the transition from Cath’s day to day life to the excerpts from Simon Snow and various fan fictions works. While this might have been jarring if handled less well, it all seemed to be well integrated and kept guiding you forward. I also enjoyed the general tone the story was written in. There’s a real sense of humour in some of the observations and descriptions while at the same time this is not a comedy and it isn’t trying to be laugh out loud funny in most instances. This tone just makes the story really fun to read and leaves you with a smile on your face as you turn a particularly interesting conversation between two characters or a bit of description that just leaves you wanting to try to figure out how something would work in real life.

It also helps that Cath is a writer. She likes words and using them in interesting ways and looking for different ways to express ideas, and this comes across in her dialogue with other characters.  Though how much you like Cath will entirely depend on how well you relate to her social awkwardness or her staunch defense of fan fiction in general. This story isn’t subtle in what it is trying to do in legitimizing fanfiction and there are some people who will find that it rubs them the wrong way. I did kind of like Cath’s explanation that it was kind of like sampling with music (though some people also find that problematic as well).


Still, regardless of your thoughts on Cath as an individual, Cath and Levi’s relationship as it develops throughout the novel is fantastically cute. Even though it is obvious from the start and their road has most of the usual bumps and curve balls you would expect along the way, there’s a genuine innocence and sweetness to how it is portrayed.

Above I wrote that Fangirl is apparently a tale of fan fiction, family and first love because while I get the fanfiction and first love parts, the family part of the story is probably the weakest link here. Cath and her father have a fairly well realised relationship, but it is Wren, the twin sister and catalyst for most of the main parts of the story, where the family part kind of falters. Wren is not a well constructed character. Partly because we only see her through Cath’s eyes and Wren is strongly attempting to separate the two of them so she has limited time physically present in the story. But partly because she’s just not an interesting character. Girl goes to university and wants to party? Way to break the mould. I guess that adds to the believability of the story, but it all just seems like such a hackneyed excuse. More importantly, removing Wren and making a few minor tweaks elsewhere, doesn’t actually diminish the story that much so that whole twin subplot thing is really superfluous at the end of the day.


And don’t get me started on the story about how they were named Cath-Wren.

The other glaring issue that I will need to mention is this book is heavy on referencing and a lot of those references are going to date this story pretty fast. Much like watching season 1 Buffy or similar and realising that the show is forever going to be locked in the 90’s. Not necessarily a bad thing and as an artefact of the age, not really an issue, but when the references come that thick and fast the dating process takes a heavier toll and in twenty years time would you still be able to even make sense of the text if you hadn’t been part of the previous era of pop-culture?


Still, I would recommend this book. It is a touching story with a range of interesting characters. The writing is fluid and enjoyable to read, and the narrative, while not about to change how we view coming of age stories, takes us on an interesting journey as we follow along with our protagonist.

I’ve been eyeing off some other books by this author because I really did enjoy their voice so hopefully I’ll be able to review something else at a later stage.

Let me know your thoughts on Fangirl if you’ve had the chance to read it.

Thanks for reading.

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Karandi James.