Cath is a fangirl. She lives and breathes the book series Simon Snow, writing pages and pages of fanfiction about him and his dark and tragic roommate Baz. She’s something of a celebrity in the Simon Snow fandom for her many fics and her baby, Carry On. She’d like nothing more than to snuggle up to her fandom and spend the rest of her days writing and reading Simon falling in love with Baz.
But of course, real life gets in the way, as it will. Cath and her twin sister Wren leave home for the first time to begin their new lives in college. They begin to grow apart, and that combined with college culture shock completely obliterates Cath’s comfort zone. Cath’s family isn’t willing to be left out of the stress party, and each member brings a whole host of problems to the plate. For the first time, she finds that ducking back into Simon Snow’s world can’t protect her from her problems.
Will she find a happy medium between fandom and real life? Will she and her sister bridge the gap between them? Will she fall in love with the perfect guy who only exists in YA novels?
We’ve all been there at one point or another in our lives. We’ve all obsessed over one thing to the exclusion of everything else in the world, be it television shows, book, comics, or even real people doing real things. We’ve all ventured into the alternately wonderful and terrifying realms of fanfiction and fanart -- maybe we’ve even created some ourselves.
At one point or another, we’ve all been fangirls (or boys, or whatever the case may be). And it’s great! It’s fun to feel part of something you love, celebrating it with other like-minded people and exploring the characters further.
So I do get where Cath is coming from, though she is rather an extreme case. Fandom is a safe way to escape the world, a place where everything turns out all right in the end (unless you’re reading sadfic).
In a way, Fangirl holds up a mirror to my own life, and what I saw there was just a little bit embarrassing. I never immersed myself so deeply into fandom the way Cath did, but her introversion and complete haplessness at basic human interaction was something I could relate to. Cath took most things way too far, as is the nature of an obsession, but there were times I just wanted to shake her. That part where she submits fanfic to an original fiction writing class and stubbornly insisted on it? IDIOT. Everything else, I didn’t mind so much. Sure, hide in your room instead of going out into the world. Think about Simon Snow so much you put yourself and your writing on par with the author’s. That’s fine. But dropping a class because you have to write your own original characters instead of rehashing your slash ship? Get real. It’s not cute, it’s not charming -- this excessively superior and vocal denial of reality is one of the things I dislike about fandom.
Happily, she gets over herself -- without a makeover scene where she changes her entire character for a boy, thank goodness -- and still retains the qualities that make me like her.
The weakest parts of Fangirl actually were the fanfic interludes. I liked the shoutouts to fanfic cultures and tropes (like the Five Times fic. Who doesn’t love a Five Times fic?), but all in all it broke the momentum of the story all too often. I didn’t care about Simon or Baz, except in the context of Cath’s life. The fact that it strongly resembled the Harry Potter universe also didn’t really work in its favor. I mostly skimmed the fics, if not skipped them altogether.
The best part is Cath’s relationship with Levi, because I’m weak for the kind of romance that you can just curl up in. It’s cozy, it’s sweet, and it’s kind of imaginary, but who goes into these books for stuff you can find in real life? Because damn, how often do you get a hero in these things who doesn’t constantly slap you in the face with how cool and handsome he’s supposed to be all the time? This guy’s hairline is going, going, gone, and I still find him attractive because he’s such a sweet and easygoing guy who lets Cath have her space and genuinely likes her, quirks and all. Everyone else can have the sexy badass with the tragic backstory and great hairdo -- I’ll be delighted with the guy who’s happy to just hang out and be dorks together.
That would be great.
While I’m no longer the audience Fangirl caters to, it’s still a pretty good read to anyone who’s ever voluntarily gone into Fanfiction.net (am I dating myself by referencing that? Okay -- Archive of Our Own, then). It’s a story that says it’s okay to be introverted, that you don’t have to be like everyone else -- but it also encourages you to go out of your comfort zone every once in a while and maybe you’ll be surprised to find that -- GASP -- you may like it.