*This Review is Spoiler Free*
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“Cath is a Simon Snow fan.
She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.
Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.
Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words… And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.” –Goodreads
This novel is an absolutely beloved gem and is among a lot of book reviewer’s favorite books of all time. I always intended to read this novel, but I wanted to wait until the hype would not impact my reading experience and I could be sure that I wouldn’t have overly high expectations.
One thing that I was not expecting, was for this novel to be ableist AF! It took me completely off guard because I have heard/read reviewers reference the ‘amazing’ anxiety representation in this novel. Cath legitimately made my skin crawl numerous times and angered me to my core. The word “crazy” is used so loosely in this novel and with derogatory connotations NUMEROUS times and in reference to Cath, her father and her outlook on various habits people have. The way that Cath’s father is written is so aggravating. Her father has bipolar disorder and the representation of this disorder is laughable at best and vomit-inducing at worst.
A little manic was okay.
A little manic paid the bills
and got him up in the morning,
made him magic when he needed it most.
"No," Cath said, "Seriously. Look at you.
You’ve got your shit together,
you’re not scared of anything.
I’m scared of everything. And I’m crazy.
Like maybe you think I’m a little crazy,
but I only ever let people see
the tip of my crazy iceberg.
Underneath this veneer of slightly crazy
and socially inept, I’m a complete disaster."
And she thought about winning.
About how she was letting this win,
whatever this was—the crazy inside of her.
Cath, zero. Crazy, one million.
Well, golly…I never knew that was how “crazy” worked. On top of the fact that “crazy” is used as a blanket term for any mental illness or disorder is deplorable in and of itself. What type of message are these snippets of the story/inner monologue/dialogue (these were just ones that I could find on Goodreads) sending to readers. At a certain point I’ve begun to wonder if it’s just me. Am I being overly sensitive and overly critical of something that isn’t really there? I am a literal unicorn on this one. A person who doesn’t love and/or like Fangirl…I might as well be a mythical creature. Well, on to the next instance and example of ableism in Fangirl.
Levi is the love-interest in this story, but for now let’s focus on Levi as a singular human being. Levi at some point confides in Cath that he doesn’t read books.
"You’ve read the books?”
“I’ve seen the movies.”
Cath rolled her eyes so hard, it hurt.
“So you haven’t read the books.”
“I’m not really a book person.”
“That might be the most idiotic thing
you’ve ever said to me."
Levi gets other students to read assigned readings to him. Often, that auditory assistance is from his ex-girlfriend and Cath’s current roommate, Raegan. He let’s Cath know that he has difficulty reading books, but is able to comprehend and absorb the stories, if they are told orally.
"Of course I can read", he said. "Jesus Christ."
"Well, then, what are you trying to tell me?
That you don't want to?"
"No. I-" He closed his eyes and
took a deep breath through his nose.
"-I don't know why I'm trying to tell you anything.
I can read. I just can't read book."
"So pretend it's a really long street sign
and muddle through it."
Now, maybe, just maybe if Ranbow Rowell had left it at just this interaction I could have possibly been able to live this down, but oh no…it shall be brought up again.
"This is why I can't be with Levi.
Because I'm the kind of girl who fantasizes
about being trapped in a library overnight
-and Levi can't even read."
Oh…oh, wow, okay then! You got any other opinions there Cath?
The fact that he misspelled "pumpkin"
made Cath wince.
I wish I had a physical copy of the book with me so that I could throw it across the room right now. Just bash it against a wall until I understand what everyone loves about this novel.
I am mentally preparing myself to say this next bit in a way that is coherent, concise, and that conveys why I could not ignore or gloss-over the “Levi can’t read books” portions of the story. Please can we just talk about the fact that although Levi is not stated to have any form of Dyslexia, that the author SHOULD have thought about how belittling and demeaning it is to suggest that someone who cannot “read”, or has difficulty reading written text is in any F**KING way less than anyone else who can “read”. OMFG!
Now…on top of that….Levi’s listening, instead of reading, the actual words on the page is a source of great dismay for Cath! Besides wanting to jump in the book and telling Cath to “f**ck off”, I would like to point out that there are people who are unable to read novels through what others think is the only conventional and correct way. What about readers who are visually impaired? Readers who rely on orated versions of stories to be able to consume them? Are you trying to tell me that there’s something wrong with those readers? Even people who just simply prefer to listen to stories instead of reading the written words….are they somehow reading something different? Does the audiobook of your novel leave out portions of the story which will prevent listening readers from grasping the story? Because that’s the only way I see this backwards a** outlook making any sense.
Honestly, I think Cath was not a great character. Ableism of the general overall story aside, she was one-dimensional and uninteresting. To consider her interesting, I would have to admit that her anxiety is a character trait and I am unwilling to consider a mental illness in that way. Mental illness is not there to make a character “interesting”, characters should have mental illnesses and that representation is necessary in literature because real humans have mental illnesses. The side/supporting characters are the saving grace of this novel! Even though those characters felt like accessories and were not adequately fleshed out, if it hadn’t been for the moments of humorous interactions between Cath and the other characters she would have been void of any smidgen of a personality. I legitimately do NOT understand what could have attracted Levi’s character to Cath’s. And considering what the truth in that question would be makes my head hurt and I’m angry enough already, so I’m just not going to delve into that!
Cath and Wren’s father was an interesting character with a rather intriguing career. He was incredibly loving and supportive of his daughters. Wren was a rather complex character, it was interesting to see just how different she was from her twin sister. Wren often times felt a lot more emotionally mature than Cath, which I found interesting considering they had an identical upbringing. Levi, was a rather believable character, he didn’t feel overdone or exaggerated. There are a few other side characters that add to the overall story and each bring an added level of interest, depth, and conflict to the novel.
If you have no issue with the previous things that concerned and bothered me, are interested in a story about a girl who writes fanfiction, familial issues, branching out and trying to become your own person, coming of age, and that has mental heath “representation” then you may enjoy this novel. I personally did not, and for a very long time I actually felt bad about not liking Fangirl, I considered never reviewing this novel. However, I ended up doing it in the end. My apologies for this turning into a rant. I really hope that my points came across through the outbursts of angry typing. I give this novel a rating of 2-out of-10 unicorn horns. Happy Reading!