A Book About A Hobby

Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell, was published in 2013.

I borrowed it from the Seattle Public Library.

The first sentence is: “There was a boy in her room.

Before Fangirl begins, there’s an excerpt from the Encyclowikia entry about the Simon Snow series. These are seven books by English author Gemma T. Leslie, published between 2001 and 2010.

The series tells the story of Simon Snow, an 11 year old orphan from Lancashire. Simon is recruited to attend the Watford School of Magicks, to become a magician. He joins a group of fellow magicians, called the Mages, to fight an evil being known as The Insidious Humdrum.

The eighth, and final, book, Simon Snow and the Eighth Dance, is scheduled to be released May 1, 2012.

It’s Fall semester, 2011. Cath and her twin sister, Wren, are starting college together. They’re both going to the same college, so Cath had assumed that they’d be dorm roommates. But at Wren’s request, they’re in different rooms, in different dorm buildings.Wren had pointed out that they’d shared a bedroom for the past eighteen years, and that college should be a time to begin new lives.

Cath is scared. She’s never lived on her own before. She’s never been away from Wren.

Their father helps Cath and Wren move into their dorms. He asks Cath why she and Wren are fighting. They’re not fighting, Cath insists – Wren just wants her independence.

Cath’s new roommate is named Reagan. She seems nice enough, even letting Cath choose her side of the room, in case she has Fen Shui issues. Reagan’s boyfriend is always around – so much so that Cath thought, for one horrifying moment, that she’d been assigned a coed dorm room. When the boyfriend isn’t around, Regan isn’t either.

Cath decorates her half of the room with her Simon Snow memorabilia.

Cath writes Simon Snow fanfiction. Her stories are popular on FanFixx.net, where she’s known as Magicath.

Cath and Reagan barely speak to each other. Levi, Regan’s boyfriend, keeps trying to talk to Cath. Regan keeps trying to be friends with Cath.

Cath tries her best to avoid parties, the cafeteria, and any form of socializing. Wren and her roommate, Courtney, keep trying to get Cath to have some fun.

Although she’s a freshman, Cath has managed to get into a 300-level Fiction Writing class. The class is taught by a published novelist. Nick, a classmate, tries to talk to Cath.

Cath is working on her largest story ever, Carry On, Simon. It’s becoming as long and complex as an actual Gemma T. Leslie novel. The parts she’s put up on FanFixx.net have made her an online superstar. In this story, Simon Snow is gay, and in love with his possibly-evil roommate Baz (Tyrannus Basilton Pitch).

Cath and Wren used to write Simon and Baz stories together, with “Magicath” handling the dialog, and “Wrenegade” handling the plot and mood. Now, Nick and Cath team up to work on a class assignment. They have to write a story together, with each person writing alternating paragraphs. Nick writes the first paragraph, in which a boy and a girl are in a parking lot. He’s dazzled by her blond hair. She pulls him in close, she smells like American Spirits, and she whispers something in his ear. Cath writes the next paragraph, which reveals that the girl is the boy’s sister, he’s caught her smoking in the parking lot, and she’s begging him to not tell Mom about either the cigarettes or the hair color. Also, he’s on his way to a date with a boy named Dave, and his name is Nick.

Cath and Nick’s story gets an enthusiastic A from Professor Piper. Nick and Cath agree to become regular writing partners, even when not required for an assignment.

Cath and Nick meet at the library every Tuesday night, and Levi always shows up to walk Cath safely back to her dorm.

Cath calls Wren to talk about “boy stuff”. Wren is at a party, and obviously drunk. She assumes Cath wants to talk about Simon and Baz, and mocks Cath’s whole obsession with Simon Snow. Cath is hurt. Wren had never made fun of Simon and Baz before.

Professor Piper loves Cath’s writing, until Cath turns in a Simon and Baz story. Professor Piper gives it an F, and lectures Cath after class about plagiarism. (But, Levi says to Cath later, it can’t be plagiarism if it’s Cath’s original story.) Rather than have Cath fail the course, Professor Piper holds her grade, and challenges Cath to write a real fiction story – one that doesn’t include Simon Snow.

Cath reads large sections of her fanfiction to Levi, and we, the readers, get to read along.

The problem with fanfiction is that it can never be anything more than a hobby. Fangirl examines that, and what it means to use someone else’s characters in your story.

There’s a fascinating conversation between Cath and Wren about ending Carry On, Simon the way Cath feels it should end, versus the way readers want it to end. This book is full of concepts.

Eventually, Cath begins opening up. She begins talking to people. But, she doesn’t have any actual friends. She never gets invited to parties, except by Reagan and Levi, who feel “more like sponsors than friends“.

Each chapter of Fangirl ends with either an excerpt from a Simon Snow novel by Gemma T. Leslie, or an excerpt from a Simon Snow story by Magicath and Wrenegade, or an excerpt from Carry On, Simon by Magicath.

On page 135, Levi mentions Harry Potter and Encyclopedia Brown. It threw me out of the story, and I didn’t like that. Until then, I’d been thinking of Simon Snow as an analog for Harry Potter, and that Fangirl was taking place in an alternate universe, of sorts – a universe where an orphaned boy who goes to a magic school is a wholly original story, and Gemma T. Leslie is the most beloved author of modern times. But page 135 tells me that Harry Potter exists alongside Simon Snow. So does that mean that either Gemma T. Leslie or J.K. Rowling have written a knock-off? If Encyclowikia exists, does Wikipedia, too? (Oh, why couldn’t Rainbow Rowell have left Harry Potter out of it?)

There is a lot going on in Fangirl. There’s Cath’s changing relationship with Wren. There’s her relationship with Nick, and her triangle with Reagan and Levi. There’s a subplot about Cath and Wren’s mother, who left them, and now wants back in their lives. There’s their single father, trying to deal with it all. And, above all, there’s Cath’s hobby that she’s being forced to outgrow. Fangirl keeps it all together quite nicely.

My favorite part was the story Nick and Cath wrote together. It had me actually laughing out loud. I also liked the side story that told us that Cath and Wren’s mother didn’t know she was having twins (Is that really possible?) and they’d decided on the name Catherine if it was a girl. When the second baby arrived, she had to suddenly think of two names, which is how she came up with Cather and Wren.

I loved this book a lot. It was full of big ideas without being heavy. The characters were interesting, and the story was believable. It was beautifully written. I got to the last hundred pages, and couldn’t put it down – I wanted to know how Fangirl would end, how Simon Snow and the Eight Dance and the whole Simon Snow series would end, how Carry On, Simon would end, and what Cath would start for her first non-Snow story.

I just need to do is unsee the Harry Potter reference.

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