Fandom is Inspiring (Finding All the Feels)

Some days I’m worried I’ve forgotten how to be a fangirl. Other days, I’m wasting full hours creating a secret Tumblr to hoard all the bits of fandom I’m too embarrassed to let others see.

Needless to say, fandom can get a bit distracting.

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Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Teen Lit: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell (There’s Still a Fangirl Deep Inside…)

Last week I finished reading Rainbow Rowell’s newest book, Carry On. I’ve talked about it before, but to recap, this novel is the fanfiction that her character Cath is writing in the wonderful wonderful book Fangirl, about her favorite series, Simon Snow. So it’s a fanfiction of a fictional story inside of a fictional story.

Following still?

The book itself was pretty good. This is supposed to be Cath’s imagining of the final novel in a series, and in a lot of ways it reads like that, as if I’ve picked up the last Harry Potter book without having ever touched the other six. Rowell does a great job of feeding enough background information that as a reader I never felt lost, and I really enjoy the unique magic system she came up with just for this book. Still, it didn’t really grab me by the ears…until about halfway through, when the really slashy/fanfiction bits come all the way to the front of the story. Then I truly stopped feeling like I was reading the last book in a series I never read — instead I’m reading a fanfiction of a series I never read. And that made it wonderful.

I used to read a lot of fanfiction, mostly from upper high school through right past college. Most of the fic was slash, which is when the fanfic writer imagines characters who don’t get together in the series pairing up, particularly male characters (at least in my reading). Fanfiction, both reading and writing it, is this way of delving way, way deep into the fandom, where you love the thing so much that when you run out of stuff to read, or characters won’t do what you desperately want them to do (like kiss), you either scour the earth for more, or you invent your own stories.

I fell out of reading fanfic, part because I felt I had enough to read on my own, and part because unless you can find an author, or at least an aggregated list, it can be exhausting to dig around for something decent (most fanfiction is written so badly, oh, so, so bad). And I also haven’t had a lot of things that I’ve been that particularly obsessed with. Some of my favorite stories, like Fullmetal Alchemist and Harry Potter, I’ve never been particularly motivated to find fanfic for, and it’s been a long time since I’ve read something new where I felt a fanfiction was absolutely necessary.

This has fed a little into my worry that there isn’t anything I’m enough of a fan of anymore (which is ridiculous, I’m a giant nerd bomb, but anxiety’s gunna do what it’s gunna do). There’s not a lot that has given me that little twinge in my gut that let’s me know my inner fangirl is shaking and flailing. Some things have given me that right level of obsession (Steven Universe, Steven Universe, Steven Universe) that makes it feel like my fangirl’s waking up from a deep slumber…and then reading Carry On basically ripped off the sheets and kicked her out of bed.

Carry On is a fun book on its own, though I probably won’t ever go back to reread it like I will with Fangirl. But I love what it is: a book written for nerds of a certain type, my type, who finally saw themselves so purely on the page with Cath’s character, who know the thrill and nerdy importance of fanfiction. And I appreciate what it did, reminding me that there is a little fangirl vibrating inside of me, just waiting to break into the highest pitched squeal you ever heard.

Thanks, Rainbow Rowell. I needed that.

Teen Lit: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

So I finished Fangirl a few weeks ago, but for some reason am only just now getting around to talking about it. After reading and loving Eleanor & Park, I was suddenly inspired to look Rainbow Rowell up on Amazon, to see if she had anything else coming out. And did she.

FangirlSo, Fangirl is about Cath, a girl entering college. She’s stressed about leaving her dad, and that her twin sister suddenly wants to be separate and have a different roommate and live in a different dorm. Her own roommate is older, and a little grumpy, and she may have bitten off more than she can chew with an advanced fiction-writing course.

Now, here’s the part of the plot description that hooked me in. Cath is a fangirl, a hardcore fangirl over the Simon Snow series, which is obviously and hilariously a version of Harry Potter (I’m not going to say spoof, it’s taken far too seriously to be a spoof). Not only does she read it, and buy merchandise for it, she also write fanfiction. Slash fanfiction. In which she has the two main male characters fall in love with each other, over and over again. I had never heard of an author actually having a character that took part in this segment of fandom, that for a moment I couldn’t believe this was what the book was actually about. I was so stoked to read this book for that bit alone. What really thrilled me once I started reading it, though, is how seriously Rowell takes fanfiction as she’s telling the story. Cath has a few problems with writing fic, one being that she spends so much of her time doing it, another that she fails a Fiction assignment because she decides to hand in a new piece of fanfiction. And there are characters that point out the downside of writing fanfiction, like her professor, pointing out that Cath is using it as a way to avoid living her own life, or writing her own stories. But Rowell also does a very excellent job of having Cath explain why writing fanfiction is so important to her, why she continues to do it, how it makes her feel just better about things. And even when Cath does finally realize that she has to write her own stories, it’s not because she decided that fanfiction is something she has to push to the wayside. It’s still important, it’s just that now it’s not the only important thing.

Also, being a nerd obsessed with a book series and writing gay fanfiction isn’t the only thing about Cath. She’s got a past that’s a bit messed up, and issues with her parents and herself that make it more and more apparent why she is the way she is. These elements are just as important as the fact that she is a nerd, and it makes the story so multi-dimensional and whole that you don’t have to be a fanfic-writing geek to understand Cath and relate to her on a very basic level. Basically, it’s a real story about a real girl, who happens to write fanfiction.

There are so many things about this book I could talk about — the great characters, the truly funny dialogue (“But I like that we’re not friends!” “I do, too. I’m sorry you had to ruin that by being pathetic.”), and a plot that just pans out in a very real and satisfying way. This was great, great, great, and I love Rowell for bringing this into the world.