Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan… But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. 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.
Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere. 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.
For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?
Okay, this book took me a while to get around to reading, and I finally did due to the mad hype this book has been getting. I suppose the problem was that I had the wrong idea about what this book was about. Maybe it was the title, or the cover art, that made me think of a YA contemporary novel with moderately-simplistic language, with a nondescript coming-of-age story about a girl who writes fanfics. But boy, was I wrong. Really, really wrong. Because it was so much more than that, worthy of a 5 star rating from me. And here’s why:
The first thing that stood out was the writing. The writing was far from what I expected in terms of complexity. It read like a novel intended for an older YA audience, and I was thrilled.
The next was the story itself: it was very simple, about a girl going to college carrying her anxiety and love of fanfiction with her. Seems simple, right? Wrong. Rowell has a way of drawing you in all the way into a character’s head. Into their passions. Into their fears. And the way in which Cath struggled with college life was so poignant, you could absolutely understand her point of view. This is such an important novel for students (like me) who started university life in fear/anxiety. I could relate. And that’s a beautiful thing.
Her relationship with Levi was messy and complicated. Because he was social, and extroverted. Because she wasn’t. And again, this is all too painfully familiar. It was so refreshing to read about a character growing accustomed to opening up for the first time. Falling in love for the first time. Having to face her fears, while retaining the essence of who she is.
Her relationship with her sister and father was a special one. She had to leave them behind, because they left her to fend for herself in college. Again, having social, popular siblings is something I can relate to. And I loved watching Cath realise that she didn’t need her sister or a complete change of character to get by. She was fine. And she grew into her skin, which, for the lucky ones, comes as a sort of epiphany. Of course, she didn’t change into a social butterfly overnight. And that’s realistic, because the truth it, that shit is hard.
As for the fanfiction aspect, I’ve heard complaints about it, but I personally loved it. It gave the protagonist something to vent through; rather than have her suffer through the entire novel, she had her writing to remind herself of who she was. Many socially anxious people have a hobby or interest that lets them be themselves, by themselves. I write. I blog. Go figure.
So, for all the socially anxious students out there, eating protein bars in their rooms to avoid loud, bustling college cafeterias, this book is for you. It’s nice to know you’re not alone. Especially if you’ve ever had the following thought:
I don’t trust anybody. Not anybody. And the more that I care about someone, the more sure I am they’re going to get tired of me and take off.