I really liked this book. The voice is so great–it really makes the novel. I also thought the humor was kind of random and spot on. I laughed several times while reading, though I wouldn’t be able to do a pull-quote. Most of it was contextual, and the way everything built up into a moment. The book is also not a traditional narrative; it’s told in lists and in screenplay format and regular prose. Playing with the format also adds to the voice.
What I think really works well about this book is that though it’s about a boy who befriends a girl with cancer (she is the dying girl, obviously.), it’s not about cancer. It’s about how this kid (Greg) who is really closed off emotionally and pretty high strung and selfish processes and deals with someone he knows having cancer. His actions aren’t pretty and he’s very self-involved, and that’s why it works. He stays at arm’s length from his feelings AT ALL TIMES and is not well-equipped to handle anything very serious. It shows in Greg’s relationship with Earl, too.
I also liked the ending because it showed that nothing really changes just because someone has cancer. It’s not usually this life-affirming event that propels those left behind into greatness. Cancer sucks and people are devastated at the loss of life and then life just kind of goes on. Unless, of course, those left behind are self-motivated.
While it’s more sad than anything, I also appreciated that Earl and Greg both had kind of resigned themselves to a certain kind of life and trapped themselves into their own narratives. I mean, it doesn’t have to be the way it winds up, but that’s the choice they both made.
Also, this is a pretty good depiction of social anxiety and crippling perfectionism.
My only complaints about this book are that Rachel is kind of a blank slate (which makes sense for the narrative–Greg, again, wants to keep her at arm’s length), and I would have liked to see Earl and Greg’s relationship developed more. However, even the lack of development in that area seems on purpose. Earl’s home life is pretty terrible, and at one point, Greg admits that he doesn’t even know how to think about or process how bad it is.
Oh, and the other thing that got annoying was Greg saying he didn’t know why anyone would still be reading the book. I didn’t mind the moments when he broke the fourth wall to talk about how trite the language was or how annoying he found himself or why he thought the story sucked, but don’t tell me I don’t want to keep reading, dude. I might have taken you up on that.
All in all, though, the book worked.
Anyway, I read this book before I saw the movie, and I have thoughts on how the adaptation worked, so I’ll be doing a post about the movie soon.
I just have to say up front that Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell is the type of story I love to read, and the type of story I want to see more of in YA lit. It’s about a girl who goes to college and has to navigate the new setting, relationships, and teachers she has. She also needs to figure out her old relationships with her family. No super heightened craziness, just regular everyday life.
In fact, it hits on quite a few of the items on my YA reading wishlist:
- mental illness – Cath’s dad has bipolar disorder, and I love the way it’s revealed and the way that it explains so much of Cath’s issues.
- alcoholism – One of the characters gets busted for alcohol poisoning, and the whole discussion about how she isn’t going to stop drinking because “everyone else drinks” is classic alcoholic behavior (the idea that s/he can drink like everybody else).
- nerdy/quirky teens unashamed of their nerdi-/quirkiness – Cath loves Simon Snow, wears her Simon Snow swag, and is just fine talking about Simon Snow. She may not tell everyone that she writes fanfic, but she’s not ashamed of her love or knowledge of the world.
Bonus points for exploring the bullheadishness of students and their lack of awareness when it comes to (a) plagiarism and (b) not following directions. Oh, and female friendship, of course. Oh, and learning disabilities! Also, Cath is so codependent.
Extra bonus points for having a romance in the story and not letting the story become about the boy. Cath’s relationship with the boy is one of the many relationships she navigates, but it doesn’t overshadow or become more important (narratively, I mean) than her relationship with her sister or her father or her other friends.
Also, Rowell’s love affair with redheads continues. There are TWO in this book.
A couple of things that didn’t quite work for me:
1. The story starts out slow because Cath spends the beginning of the book being a mopey hermit. Rowell keeps the narrative from getting too bogged down by showing Cath’s forced interactions with her roommate and classmates. Yay for dialogue.
2. Several times in the story, the characters comment that Cath has online friends, but there’s nothing that shows Cath’s online friends are her actual friends. There’s this undercurrent that those friends don’t count. Cath is a BNF (big name fan), so she would be interacting with her online friends A LOT. This idea of online fans as being isolated in real life but not online is important, and I wish it had been explored more.
3. I liked the excerpts from the Simon Snow books and fic as framing devices for the chapters. I absolutely HATED that huge chunks of parts of the narrative was Cath reading her fic out loud to someone and what she was reading was transcribed in the book. I am not a big fanfic reader of the shows and books that I actually know and love. To read fanfic about a world that doesn’t actually exist–about characters I had zero investment or interest in–felt extra pointless.
All in all, though, I found Fangirl to be a solid read, and I breezed through it. Loved the characters, loved the relationships.