December 3, 2023

Gabbing Geek

Your online community for all things geeky.

Geek Lit: Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl


Jenny picked Rainbow Rowell’s novel Fangirl as the latest Gabbing Geek book club for the podcast.  I finished it up and have a few thoughts.

To begin, this isn’t really a “geek” book.  It’s a coming-of-age novel about a girl that might be a geek.  I don’t really think she is, actually.  For more thoughts, and potential SPOILERS, see after the cut.

Fangirl tells the story of Cather, one of a pair of twins.  She writes fan fiction, particularly slash fiction, based off the popular Simon Snow series.  In fact, she’s got a huge fan following.

That said, she really doesn’t want to leave home.  Her mother abandoned the family sometime after 9/11, her dad has a history of manic behavior, and her twin sister Wren wants some space.  Cath herself seems to want to avoid going out as much as possible.  She doesn’t go to the freshmen mixer, and seems inclined to going home to her dad in Omaha as often as possible.

Now, a friend of mine from college actually wrote a review for this book saying it could have been her freshmen year of college.  I don’t recall her being this shy, truth be told.  I mean, Cath is incredibly introverted, to the point where I was wondering if she had an anxiety disorder.  This wasn’t the sort of behavior that making new friends would necessarily fix.  I know a bit about this due to firsthand knowledge of someone with bad anxiety, and Cath’s problems seemed to go beyond being very shy.

But more to the point, I wanted to say a bit about whether or not Cath is a geek girl.  I mean, this is a geek website, so is this a geek book?

I’d say not really.  See, I know geek girls, lots of geek girls, and geek girls don’t focus their fan interests exclusively to one thing.  If Cath were a geek girl, she’d probably be into things besides Simon Snow.  My wife is not a geek girl, but she does enjoy a few geek things, mostly of the high fantasy sort.  She loves all things Tolkien, Harry Potter, and Game of Thrones.  But she also prefers more mainstream, non geek stuff as her primary forms of entertainment.  She’s mostly bemused by my interests.  My wife is not a geek.  This isn’t a matter of having geek blindspots, like me when it comes to video games, but more of a matter of my wife just not being a geek, and I don’t think Cath is either.

I think that is an important designation to make for a site like this.  Further, I have no idea what Cath enjoys outside of Simon Snow (that seems a little extreme to me…surely she likes other stuff besides that and Kanye West).  In fact, arguably Cath has a nearly unhealthy interest in Simon Snow given the level of her obsession.  That interest wanes as the book goes on, but I think it hurt the book in the last full chapter where Rowell chose to end the narrative not with her characters speaking, but a passage from the last of the Simon Snow books.  That strikes me as a narrative weakness, truth be told.  Yes, there is an epilogue from one of Cath’s non-Snow works, but it wasn’t really enough for me.  I would even argue Cath’s realization about the relative importance of her school work over her fanfiction comes awfully fast late in the book.

One other weakness to the book itself, I will point out, is the Simon Snow material.  In-universe, Simon Snow is supposed to be this awesome series everyone loves.  Even Cath’s writing professor, who disses all things fanfic, refers to the author of Simon Snow as one of the greatest creative minds of her time.  But what little was there reminded me an awful lot of Harry Potter, and some dialogue revealed that Harry Potter does exist in this world.  How is that series somehow more creative when it looks so much like something else?  I know the real reason Rowell did it was to make things a little easier for herself.  Her main interest was in Cath and her maturing into a young adult.  But there was a little too much praise for a fictional series that sounded like it was Harry Potter with a little Twilight thrown in for good measure.

That’s not to say the book was bad.  It was fine.  I just don’t think it was a geek book.  It’s a coming of age book.  I’ll even give it seven page views out of ten.  Don’t read it looking for a geek girl.  Read it for a fangirl with one geek interest finding her way in the world when she has way too many concerns otherwise.