Fangirl has a soundbite to make it easy to describe: it’s the YA novel about the girl who writes fanfic. Like most soundbites this is terribly and unfairly reductive; it’s about a whole lot of other things, like growing up, coping with your own neuroses and your family’s unique miseries. It’s nuanced and surprising, often funny as hell, and I loved it almost unreservedly.
The fic Cath writes is mildly slash stuff about Simon Snow, a Harry Potterish sort with a hot vampire nemesis, like if Draco Malloy were a Vampire Diarist. In between each chapter Rowell treats us to excerpts from the supposed Snow books and from Cath’s fic based on them, so we see Cath gradually becoming a better and bolder writer.
The fic isn’t a gimmick: the fact that Cath writes it, and how and why she writes it is deeply important to her character. But the compelling story here is Cath’s own, not Simon’s, and Rowell tells it deftly. (One little thing I particularly appreciated about Rowell’s prose: she’s good at matching specific physical detail to dialogue, in a terrific contrast to certain writers who lean hard on dull adjectives like “handsome,” and “lovely.”)
My only quibble is that there are few times when the reader needs to know things the first person narrator isn’t aware of, and the communication of these sometimes felt a bit unsubtle. But it’s a fundamentally difficult tricky to pull off.