by Rainbow Rowell
In A Nutshell
Let's imagine there's a series of books about a boy magician, and that said boy magician goes to a boarding school, where another student is his arch nemesis. Let's also imagine that the series has approximately eleventy billion near-rabid fans.
Do we even need to say Harry Potter? Unless you've been living in a cave your entire life, we're pretty sure you've heard of the guy. We're also pretty sure you know some serious HP fans, or have been one yourself at some point (cave dwellers excluded, of course).
Enter: Fangirl, a book about, among other things, a girl who's gaga for Simon Snow, a boy wizard who sounds an awful lot like a certain kid with a scar.
Wait… so is this just a Harry Potter rip-off? Not in the least, Shmoopers. Instead of a heroic wizard at the heart of Fangirl, there's an ordinary heroine, Cath Avery, who is such a Simon Snow fan that she's content to spend her freshman year at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln writing fanfiction in her dorm room. In her defense, her fanfic is pretty much the best available, and she's got her own obsessed fandom to tend to.
Author Rainbow Rowell, a Harry Potter fanfiction junkie and self-professed geek girl, gained her own slavish fanbase with the February 2013 release of the New York Times bestseller and Printz Honor Book Eleanor and Park. When Fangirl hit the shelves seven months later, Amazon.com chose it as a Best Book of the Month, and the New York Times Book Review named it a Notable Children's Book of 2013. Rowell's fangirls agreed, naming the book the second-best young adult novel of the year in the Goodreads Choice Awards… second only to Eleanor and Park. Boo ya.
Let's be clear, though: Fans don't just love Fangirl because of Harry Potter angle, so if you're not wild about wizards, worry not.
Although some schools banned the book due to the cursing and underage drinking, young-adult readers embraced Cath, the poster girl for social anxiety, who practically has heart palpitations when she imagines changing out of her tea-stained Simon Snow shirt and mingling with other college students in the cafeteria. Parties? Forget it—well, at least until her roommate's ex-boyfriend and still-friend, a cute farm boy named Levi, gradually coaxes her out of her room like the Freshman Whisperer, introducing Cath to the tortured awesomeness of first love.
In other words, if you love wizards, nerds, new love, or banned books, Fangirl should hit the spot.
Why Should I Care?
Have you ever wondered why Jackson Pollock is revered, but when you let paint drip across the canvas in art class your teacher gives you a dirty look and asks you to apply yourself?
Do you know what Picasso meant when he said, "Bad artists copy. Good artists steal" (Source)?
In other words, what is art?
We're not trying to front like we know the answer to this question. We know what we like and we know when we think something's good, but we're hard-pressed to create a concrete definition of what art is. And the thing is, this question—what is art—has been answered and argued over so many different ways that we're pretty sure it's safe to say that nobody knows. Not for certain, anyway. But that so many people have spent time cultivating opinions means this questions matters—it is, after all, about beauty, expression, documentation, and more; the stuff the world is made of.
This question comes up in Fangirl in a pretty major way, driving Cath to do some good hard thinking about the writing she does and the writing she could be doing. So whether you don't have a creative bone in your body, or your skeleton's entirely made of them, get ready to dig deep with Cath as she tries to figure out for herself what, exactly, is art.