"'You write stories about Simon Snow...'
"'You think this is funny.'
"'Yes,' Levi said. 'But also sort of cool. Tell me about your stories.'
"Cath pressed the tines of her fork into her place mat. 'They're just like...I take the characters, and I put them in new situations.'
"'Like deleted scenes?'
"'Sometimes. More like what-ifs. Like, what if Baz wasn't so evil? What if Simon never found the five blades? What if Agatha found them instead? What if Agatha was evil?'
"'Agatha couldn't be evil,' Levi argued, leaning forward and pointing at Cath with his fork. 'She's "pure of heart, a lion at dawn"'
"Cath narrowed her eyes. 'How do you know that?'
"'I told you, I've seen the movies.'
"'Well, in my world, if I want to make Agatha evil, I can. Or I can make her a vampire. Or I can make her an actual lion.'
"'Simon wouldn't like that.'
"'Simon doesn't care. He's in love with Baz.'
"Levi guffawed. (You don't get many opportunities to use that word,Cath thought, but this is one of them.)
"'Simon isn't gay,' he said.
"'In my world, he is.'
"'But Baz is his nemesis.'
"'I don't have to follow any of the rules. The original books already exist; it's not my job to rewrite them.'
"'Is it your job to make Simon gay?'
"'You're just getting distracted by the gay thing,' Cath said. She was leaning forward now, too.
"'It is distracting...' Levi giggled. (Did guys 'giggle' or 'chuckle'? Cath hated the word 'chuckle.')
"'The whole point of fanfiction,' she said, 'is that you get to play inside someone else's universe. Rewrite the rules. Or bend them. The story doesn't have to end when Gemma Leslie gets tired of it. You can stay in the world, this world you love, as long as you want, as long as you keep thinking up new stories--'
"'Fanfiction,' Levi said.
"'Yes.' Cath was embarrassed by how sincere she sounded, how excited she felt whenever she actually talked about this. She was so used to keeping it a secret -- used to assuming people would think she was a freak and a nerd and a pervert...'
"Maybe Levi thought all those things. Maybe he just found freaks and perverts amusing."
Will reading this great dialogue about fanfiction have me writing some? Hmm...I dunno. But it sure is the most intriguing discussion about this sort of creative writing that I've ever encountered either in real life or on the written page. I've no doubt that it will fully capture the attention and imagination of many an aspiring teen or tween writer who is fortunate enough to discover this honest, sweet, fun and funny coming of age story about an innocent and oft-awkward college freshman who is a writer and whose challenging family dynamics have contributed to her having spent years in a fan-fictional world of her own making.
In one sense, this week's reading of FANGIRL has been the disconnect of the year for me. Every time I've taken a break from reading it, I'd be sitting here trying to figure out how to bridge the gap between the notable tale in which I was emotionally immersed, and the headlines that have recently been bouncing around the listservs that I frequent:
"Minnesotans cancel Rainbow Rowell's book visit after parent complaints"
I've read the article and, all week, I've been reading this author's work that has had me feeling really happy and...I just so don't get it.
There is wealth of insipid and profane young adult literature out there that is full of cardboard characters, devoid of literary merit, and lacking in respect for its readers. It has its home in the choir and its enthusiastic audience. And I spend a lot of time digging through it, like Indiana Jones hacking his way through a jungle, as I seek out the occasional YA treasure that still -- at the age 58 -- moves and changes me as a human being with its brilliance and wisdom. FANGIRL is one of the latter sort of books, and it is an absolute crime that young people in the Minneapolis area got screwed out of meeting this amazing writer thanks to somebody on a mission to save the world from the F-word.
To be honest, I am not at all surprised to discover how great Ms. Rowell's writing is. I recently conversed with an old friend from my children's and YA bookselling days. I've always counted this friend as one of the most knowledgeable children's buyers in the country and she told me that Ms. Rowell's other book from this year, ELEANOR AND PARK -- which just arrived in the mail -- is the off-the-charts best book of 2013.
But in the minds of the zombies (to borrow some categorization from Laurie Halse Anderson's upcoming book), I guess that the more honest and real and well-written a young adult book (one containing the F- word) is, the more dangerous it is. Which would certainly make Ms. Rowell a writer to be feared by the zombies.
Anyway, FANGIRL is the tale of college freshman Cath, who has a twin sister name Wren. (Get it? Cath and Wren?) They are off to the same university but are, now for the first time in their lives, not sharing a bedroom -- and are not even living in the same dorm -- and so Cath is needing to deal with a new roommate and independence, and in the above scene Cath is seemingly playing with fire because Levi, who has just rescued Cath from a difficult situation involving a drunken Wren, and now has taken Cath, in her snow storm-soggy pjs, to a truck stop, on the edge of the city, in the middle of the night, to share some conversation (and corned beef hash), is actually Cath's roommate's boyfriend.
At the heart of FANGIRL are the unending reverberations stemming from the twins' childhood departure of their mother, who has since been out of touch with them; and the challenges of dealing with a father who is a both brilliant and clinically manic executive in an advertising agency:
"They'd see him skip dinner; they'd count the cups of coffee. They'd notice the zeal in his voice.
"And they'd try to rein him back in.
"Usually it worked. Seeing that they were scared terrified their dad. He'd go to bed and sleep for fifteen hours. He'd make an appointment with his counselor. He'd try the meds again, even if they all knew it wouldn't stick.
"'I can't think when I'm on them,' he'd told Cath one night. She was sixteen, and she'd come downstairs to check the front door and found it unlocked -- and then she'd inadvertently locked him out. Her dad had been sitting outside on the steps, and it scared her half to death when he rang the doorbell.
"'They slow your brain down,' he said, clutching an orange bottle of pills,. 'They iron out all the wrinkles...Maybe all the bad stuff happens in the wrinkles, but all the good stuff does, too...
"'They break your brain like a horse, so it takes all your orders. I need a brain that can break away, you know? I need to think. If I can't think, who am I?'"
Cath and Wren have, in so many ways, been their father's keeper for all of these years -- with varying degrees of success -- and now they are gone off and he's home alone. So this tight family trio is suddenly scattered to the wind which forces Cath to step outside of author Gemma T. Leslie's world -- the fictional and fan-fictional world she has kept herself in -- and face the real world.
This is a truly exceptional coming of age story for ages fourteen to eighteen.
(Utilizing Amazon's Look Inside! tool, I could instantly figure out that the F- word is employed eight times in FANGIRL. Just in case that's what really matters to you.)
Ages 14 and up 448 pages 978-1250030955
Recommended by: Richie Partington, MLIS
Instructor, San Jose State University, California USA