Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell, is a book about an 18-year-old girl named Cather who’s struggling with all of the changes in her life, including how her mom abandoning her family when she was 8, she is now learning to how get the grip of beginning university and accepting that her twin sister wants to distance herself in the name of independence and choosing a different path. Cather is a huge fan of the Simon Snow books and writes fanfiction, which is a passion of hers where she has a huge following of fans, as well as a way for her to escape from the stressful things in life. The Simon Snow books, which are the inspiration of Cather’s (Cath’s) fanfiction writing, are the basis of the fandom in this book, hence the title of Fangirl. The Simon Snow books still remind me a little of Harry Potter; Cath writes fanfiction based on two of the characters that come off as a parallel of Harry and Malfoy, although, I could be biased due to my own participation in the Harry Potter fandom. Cath begins falling for a boy and has to overcome challenges in her family with her sister and her mom (who abandoned them) and their dad (who has his own mental health problems).
This is a perfect coming of age story because Cath really has to learn to stand on her own two feet. She has to learn how to have the confidence to do things without her twin sister, Wren, and to meet new people. She comes off as being afraid to do things, such as not doing a writing assignment because she doesn’t want to create her own characters and world and she wants to finish her fanfiction story before the author releases the last Simon Snow book because she is worried it won’t end the way she wants it too. I love how relatable Cath is as a character and I loved watching her grow throughout the book.
Cause being a “real life” Fangirl is all kinds of awesome…
The Simon Snow books don’t even exist outside of Fangirl. Simon Snow and Baz (the nemesis, who Cath wrote as Simon’s lover in her fanfic) are Rainbow Rowell’s fictionalized creation to strongly appear to parallel the fanfiction – obsessed fandom of Harry Potter. One of large aspect of the Harry Potter fandom was the fan fiction and other fan created works based on the series. I read another book a year or two ago (Harry, A History, 2008) by Melissa Anelli, the web mistress of the Leaky Cauldron. What I gleaned from Anelli’s observations was that Harry Potter was really the first hugely popular series that had mass access to the Internet, so people jumped all over that and started writing fanfiction and creating fan films, fan art, fan [insert other artistic/creative creation – because the options seem reasonably limitless]. It seemed like a big deal at first, mostly because I don’t think publishers and authors knew what to do with people borrowing from an authors world like that but not actually be outright stealing, plagiarizing, or in any way pretending that the characters or the world the author created was their own idea. Fanfiction was a convenient way to write your own story inside the world that an author, such as J.K Rowling, created (obviously, people still write fan fiction so they’ve worked it out because I think dear ol’ Joanne vouched for how beneficial fan works were to the fans of her series). Honestly, I totally understand the appeal of fanfiction, even though I do not write it myself, because Harry Potter is one of those series (or the only series) that I have reread so many times that I’ve had to tape some of the covers back on and it is the only series where I have actively participated in the fandom. Seriously, even less-active fans still talked about wanting their letters to Hogwarts. While we were all imagining what our lives would have been like at Hogwarts, some people started writing those imaginations out, answering what if a girl got pregnant and had her baby in the Room of Requirements, or they’d create a few LGBT students. Others would write hypotheticals of what it would be like if certain story elements changed in the series, like what if Malfoy wasn’t a total git and he and Harry were really in love.
So, now I can return to Simon Snow in Fangirl, the perfect parallel to the Harry Potter fandom.
Fangirl is a perfect way to understand the meaning and power that fandom holds in the lives of so many people. Just take a look at the fandom that the Harry Potter books inspired. I, myself, was a public relations executive for the Harry Potter Alliance at my university. I may wear my geekiness on my sleeve but Harry Potter also holds a lot of meaning in my life in a way that a lot of people who are not active in fandom may not understand. But hey, if you are one of those people who just “doesn’t get it”, Fangirl is a perfect place to begin understanding. It’s been really great to engage in the fandom and read a book literally called FANGIRL and begin seeing how others choose to engage in their fandom and why it is totally normal and why we aren’t a bunch of acne covered shut ins. All of us who want to engage in our fandom do it the way that worked best for is. I went the way of fan based social activism while others have gone the way of creating fan works – writing (also called fanfiction), art, music, and film, just to name a few.
Responses to the book club discussion prompts
Discussion Prompt #1: How does Cath’s online fame as a fanfiction author impact her sense of self confidence? Is Cath able to translate her feelings of success online to the “real world”?
Early on, there seemed to be a divide between the way Cath perceived herself in real life and online, it was as if she thought it was some crazy fluke that people loved her writing. For her, writing fan fiction was a way for her to escape the things that made her uncomfortable, sad, or upset in real life and it had just gotten to the point where the mere act of writing was also becoming stressful because she felt like she had to do it for other people. She had to learn how to write for herself again. I think that having a great amount of success online really helped her in the real world, like when Nick wouldn’t give her credit for her helping him write a story, at first she was really hurt and let him “walk all over her”, but when he came back later and wanted her to put her name on the story so he could get it published, she had the confidence in herself by that point to say no. I think by that point she was secure enough that she didn’t want Nick to use her any more and she wasn’t going to allow that to hurt her.
Another thing is that I think her identity, both on and offline, were so closely tied to her sister, Wren, and Wren decided that she wanted all of this independence that Cath didn’t necessarily want herself, Cath just wanted her sister. I think that her online identity wasn’t impacted as greatly but in “real life”, it took Cath longer to learn how to stand on her own two feet.
Discussion Prompt #2: Rainbow Rowell is coming out with Carry On in real life. Are there fanworks and fan creators that you currently or previously appreciate and follow? What value do these creators and creations add to your life?
Honestly, I’ve never followed fan works. I have always enjoyed watching YouTube videos, but none of them write (or film) any kind of fanfiction to my knowledge. Fangirl definitely makes me want to read fanfiction (about Harry Potter, of course), but it’s never been something that I have ever been all that interested in. Consequently, I cannot really comment on how the creators or creations add to my life. What I can comment on is the fact that I was a public relations executive for the chapter of the Harry Potter Alliance at my university, which has absolutely added to my life in a very profound way. There are so many ways to engage in fandom of a book or movie. For a person (or character, in the case of Cath), writing fanfiction or creating other fan works is the perfect way to engage with a meaningful series. Some people want to dress up in costumes, others just want to read books and movies over and over and feel satisfied with that. I absolutely adore the fact that the Harry Potter series lent itself so well to the creation of the Harry Potter Alliance because for me fan based social activism was the most meaningful way that I could express my love of a series. It was the best experience I had during university (and it sucks that it took until my final year to be able to embrace my major geekiness). It was the first time, really, that I got to spend time with other people who were just as into Harry Potter as myself, who also wanted to do good for the world and (for once) I knew I could embrace my inner-Harry-Potter-loving-geek. I thought it was the greatest thing ever that I knew I could make a difference in the world AND have it based in something I was passionate about; think about what you could do with that. Passionate about music? Ok, maybe you should join an orchestra or become a music therapist! Passionate about writing? Ok, write a book that’ll teach children about LGBT people and sexual/gender diversity (ok, clearly I like inspiring change). You like Harry Potter or the Hunger Games? Ok, create campaigns where those are influencers. I feel like people spend so much time saying not to do something because it isn’t realistic and practical, but I think, in cases like this, that it can totally be realistic or practical. The Harry Potter Alliance inadvertently (or unintentionally) taught me not to be afraid to follow my dreams, whatever they are and to reach for the sky when it comes to social activism.
Discussion Prompt #3: Cath’s identity is very closely tied to her fandom. Is that healthy? Why or why not? Is it possible to be “too much” of a fan?
It is and it isn’t healthy in my opinion. I’ll start with why it is (potentially) unhealthy because it is the argument I agree with least but I’ll play to both sides. I think that, initially, her identity being so closely tied to her fandom is (bordering) on being unhealthy because she uses it as a means to avoid confronting or dealing with things in “real life”, such as her falling out with Wren and the feelings she has for Nick and then Levi. Cath was the kind of person doing stuff to cope, like writing all her feelings into her stories, and that helped her cope, which is great, but it took her a while to actually trying to deal with her problems with her sister or mom or dad or the guy she likes. It’s like she used it as a coping mechanism and that wasn’t necessarily healthy. However, at the same time I think that fandom (and fanfiction) can be very healthy, and it is healthy for Cath in many ways, because often the series that inspire a great fan base has characters that inspire you and there are themes that teach you about confidence, bravery, love, and friendship (just to name a few). I think what Cath really needed early on was the Simon Snow fandom and writing the fanfiction in order to cope until she was ready to process and face all of the things that challenged her in her “real life”. If she didn’t have the fandom, she wouldn’t have had it there as an outlet. In the long run, she had people there for her who helped her out and she was eventually able to partake in her fandom in a way that held a lot more confidence and acceptance.