Rereading Rainbow: “Fangirl”

Fangirl is Rainbow’s second YA book, and it follows Cather—but please call her Cath—a freshman in college who’s dealing with some abandonment issues because her twin sister Wren wants to spend more time meeting other people. (Doesn’t having a twin mean you have a built-in best friend?) Riddled with social anxieties, Cath just wants to spend all her time hiding in her dorm, writing Simon Snow fan fiction. The Simon Snow series is basically the Harry Potter series, except that HP also exists in this universe, so I don’t know how fictional SS writer Gemma T. Leslie didn’t get hella sued . . . Anyway. Cath has a very large following for her longest fic, Carry On, Simon, a shipping of the Harry and Malfoy characters (Simon and Baz, respectively), and she feels obligated to finish her own canon before Gemma T. Leslie released the eighth and final book the following year. But, Cath finds that college holds a lot of distractions, such as worrying about how her clearly bipolar father is faring in an empty house; a Fiction Writing teacher who thinks of Cath as a gift but doesn’t understand her attraction to fanfic; a boy in her Fiction Writing class named Nick who becomes a steady writing partner and a bit of a crush; and her intimidating, older roommate Reagan and Reagan’s possible boyfriend, Levi. Levi is especially distracting with his wild, receding hair and his sunshine-y farm boy attitude.

What follows is a year’s worth of drama and humor and heartbreak. It sounds like I’m describing an episode of Degrassi or some other equally melodramatic portrayal of teenage life, but believe me when I say that it is so much better than that. Maybe I’m biased because I feel like I was almost exactly Cath in my freshman year of college, minus the twin and the fanfic; I’m pretty positive we had almost the same body type though. I could connect with every single one of her anxieties about being in public and being expected to make friends. It’s so the worst. And watching her come out of her shell as the book unfolds is like watching an accelerated timeline of my own experiences. It’s lovely.

One of the things I love about this book is that before (or after, depending on how you look at it) each chapter, there is a little Simon Snow-related excerpt. Sometimes it’s taken from a chapter in one of the Gemma T. Leslie books, sometimes it’s taken from fanfiction that Cath has written (the more recent posts written alone, the older tag-team efforts with Wren), and sometimes it’s something “informational” like a fake-Wikipedia entry. The first time I read Fangirl, I just took these excerpts at face value, not realizing that they were probably placed where they were for a reason. So on this read, I took the time to really digest each excerpt and see how they could be applied forwards or backwards. I felt soooo dumb after reading the first chapter and its subsequent excerpt; they begin with almost the exact same sentence! How did I not pick up on that?! I think I ending up spending more time focusing on how the excerpts related to the chapters that preceded them; I kept getting tripped up when it felt like an excerpt more closely related to the chapter that followed. So I will definitely have to keep an even sharper eye on that for the next reread. I really don’t know what I plan to do with this information—I won’t be sharing it here because that would be just a world of spoilers—but I know that I absolutely have to have it.

Another thing that I love about this book is the fact that Rainbow’s next book (coming out this fall) is going to be a Simon Snow story!! It’s called Carry On, and it’s a love story about Simon and Baz. I’m BEYOND excited for this book to come out; I can’t even begin to tell you. I hope that it sounds like Cath’s fanfic. One of her Simon/Baz short stories is shared in its entirety across a couple of chapters, so I have to imagine that Carry On will sound like that (which I guess would just sound like Rainbow since she created Cath, but whatever). I don’t know if it’ll be at all related to the snippets of Carry On, Simon that we see in Fangirl; I would definitely love to see some parts that I recognize, thus getting the full picture, but I won’t be mad if it’s something entirely new. I mean, either way, it’s going to be SO AMAZING. When I first heard that Rainbow was writing another book, I was a little pissed that it was going to take away from her writing of the screenplay for Eleanor and Park (my favorite book, and the last one I will review). But then there were so many clues that Rainbow was writing about Simon and Baz, and when she confirmed it a few months ago, I was over the moon. I can’t wait!

As I said in my Landline post, Rainbow has a way of writing that just sweeps me up inside it like a pair of loving arms. (Ok, I didn’t say it exactly like that, but I’m sure you got the gist!) Writing this post on the other side of all four books, I can say with absolute certainty that I feel Rainbow’s writing in my stomach, in my head, in my heart, in my lungs. It jumps from so real to beyond hilarious to heartbreaking to quantifiable perfection and back again. I could say even more (she deserves to have all the things said about her), but I want to save my more reverential words for my E&P post. So, I will let Rainbow speak for herself. DISCLAIMER: For the more romantic moments, I’m not going to disclose who Cath is talking about/to/with because even though there are only two choices, I think the way she chooses deserves to be read without any preconceptions.

  • When Reagan decides that she is going to befriend Cath for Cath’s sake (p. 43)

    Cath: I like that we’re not friends.
    Reagan: Me too . . . I’m sorry you ruined it by being so pathetic.

  • When Cath’s dad is telling her she should be going out instead of worrying about him (p. 63)

    Don’t hang out with frat guys, Cath, they’re terrible.

  • When Cath and Nick are discussing how it feels to write, and Rainbow has to go and have Cath say something that is just platinum perfection (p. 101)

    Nick: . . . and [the words are] made of bone and blood.
    Cath: Now they’re made of breath.

  • When Cath is thinking about the aftermath of her parents’ divorce, there’s a phrase that just reminds me so much of myself (p. 143)

    . . . Wren acting out, Cath acting in.

  • I feel like this line on page 160 about Cath’s dad, who works for an ad agency, really shows that Rainbow understands the eternal struggle of the creative mind’s attempt to have people understand his or her vision

    And then it was like someone had tapped straight into her dad’s heart and was draining the sap from his soul.

  • On pages 226 and 227, there is a very emotional scene about Cath fearing that she was going to end up like her dad (i.e. “crazy”), and I actually teared up a bit because I have definitely dealt with things akin to this situation

    . . . didn’t feel [. . .] like her DNA was a trap ready to snap closed on her.

  • On page 245, Cath says something just so spot-on about the struggles of people with anxiety (There are so many instances where she says something, and I’m left wondering how Rainbow got the legal right to reach into my skull and publish the things I think)

    Just . . . isn’t giving up allowed sometimes? Isn’t it okay to say ‘This really hurts, so I’m going to stop trying’?

  • The line that stuck with me from the first read/that I was really looking forward to on this read (p. 302)

    . . . everything about him made Cath feel loose and immoral.
    [His] eyebrows were pornographic.

  • A hilarious comment about losing your virginity (p. 389)

    The first few times you do it, you only get graded on attendance.

Then, there are just a few moments that I really, really enjoyed that I’ll briefly describe for you here.

  • At page 102, just as I start to wonder if Cath is getting the picture that [One of Her Romantic Options] isn’t really that into her because he never once offers to walk her home after they hang out, another character brings it up. That sync-up just made me laugh. It also reminded of a review of Iron Man 2. There’s a scene where Tony is talking to Pepper and there’s a perpetual motion device on her desk; after a few minutes, Tony asks if they can move it because it’s irritating. The reviewer felt that this was perfectly synced to his own enjoyment of/annoyance with the device. So you can see why it popped into my head haha
  • On pages 116 and 117, [One of Her Romantic Options] confronts some drunk frat douches who are perving out about Cath and Wren’s twinness. It’s very sweet and funny because apparently the twin fetish was news to him. As a man of legal drinking age, it seems hilariously absurd that he hadn’t been aware of it.
  • On page 124, Cath feels embarrassed trying to explain how important fanfiction is to her, and this is exactly how I feel whenever I think/try to talk about how much I love reading. Sometimes it feels like the only person who would understand how I feel is me . . . or a real-life Cath. Or I guess Rainbow . . . (And if you’re reading this, RR: Let’s hang out!)
  • In Chapter 15, Cath is reading aloud to [One of Her Romantic Options], and somehow it is INCREDIBLY SENSUAL. I don’t know how Rainbow managed that! Even as I read and reacted to it, I was just like “How is she doing this? How is reading The Outsiders to someone insanely sensual?!” I mean, what’s sexy about The Outsiders? Nothing, to my recollection. What’s sexy about reading to someone for that matter? Yet there’s no way that scene could’ve ended in anything other than a major make-out session.
  • On pages 201–203, Cath has a conversation in the library with a girl who reads and loves Carry On, Simon, and the girl has NO IDEA that she’s having this conversation with the person who writes it. I think that is so adorable. I would love to see the look on the girl’s face if she ever found out she was talking to the one and only Magicath (her handle). The whole thing just made me think “Thank God authors’ pictures are included on the book flaps these days, so we can know who to worship if we came across them on the street.”
  • On page 236, Cath is back at home during Christmas break, and while she’s watching the fourth Simon Snow movie with her dad, it very clearly draws a parallel to the Goblet of Fire movie by mentioning that all the actors had grown out their hair. I laughed a lot at that because I always think that when watching Goblet (it’s hard not to; they all look like they want to be in a heavy metal band). Additionally, her dad brings up how he watched the most recent X-Men movie and felt had clearly been ruined by Cath’s fanfic because he was convinced that Magneto and Xavier were in love. That is so perfect on so many levels.
  • This actually isn’t in Fangirl, but at a climactic moment at the end of Landline, Cath and [The One She Chooses] make a cameo! I did not catch on to it when I read Landline the first time, but while taking part in a Goodreads Q-and-A panel with Rainbow, someone asked about a Fangirl sequel, and she said that she wrote Cath and [The One She Chooses] into the ending of Landline. So I immediately squee’d and reread that part. The squeee was still in effect when I reread Landline, and knowing they were still together (as Fangirl takes place in 2011-2012 and Landline is the tail end of 2013) made rereading Fangirl that much better!

So there you have it! Second post accomplished; Halfway Point achievement unlocked!
If this sounded like something you’d enjoy, you should do yourself a favor and pick it up. If not, no worries. Next up is Rainbow’s first novel, Attachments, which follows the lives of three people working at an Omaha newspaper during the frenzy preceding Y2K. Half-told in emails, I’m sure it’ll make you nostalgic for the good ol’ days (LONG LIVE THE 90s) and wonder whether the person who’s right for you is an unread email chain away . . .