I started writing Harry Potter fanfiction when I was twelve. It was a revelation for me. All of the sudden, I went from wanting to read books for a living to wanting to write them. The internet was a supportive place, and even at twelve people told me to keep writing. So I did.
Nine years later, yes, I do still write fanfiction. It’s a form of stress relief. As of this post, I’ve written about a hundred fanfics on fanfiction.net. Fanfiction breeds these really powerful online fandom communities. There’s particular active fans–the tv shows Supernatural and Sherlock have a rabid base. But almost all of these are young- or new-adults who grew up with Harry Potter. The Harry Potter series had the good fortune of coming out at about the same time everyone was getting a computer in their home.
Rainbow Rowell, author of Fangirl, recognizes that fan love often spawns creativity. Fan art has been made for tons of television shows, movies, and books. Fanfiction has been written for video games, comic strips. And Fangirl draws on this perfectly, utilizing everything from the terminology (fandom, fic, ship, slash) to a fictional series that resembles Harry Potter.
There Won’t Be a Child in Our World
Fangirl’s front story is about Cather and Wren Avery, twins who are starting their Freshman year of college. Wren is determined to reinvent herself, and that means everything from hanging out with a different crowd to not rooming with her sister to letting their co-written, extremely popular Simon Snow fanfiction “Carry On” fall entirely to Cather.
Cather is not as ready to leave her past behind. She’s determined to finish “Carry On” before the last Simon Snow book comes out at the end of the school year, and spends a lot of time in the world of the books, where the characters are as familiar as friends and the old story is comforting in the face of parental and boy difficulties.
But you can’t hide in fiction forever, which Cather realizes when her favorite teacher accuses her of plagiarism when she hands in a piece of Simon Snow fanfiction as a creative writing assignment. And her roommate constantly having a cute guy over isn’t helping Cather concentrate on ending the story she’s been working on for years.
Who Doesn’t Know His Name
And then there’s the fanfiction. Fangirl includes large portions of the story Cather is writing, her own ending to the Simon Snow series (Simon goes to a wizarding school, has to save the world from a dark force, has enemies within the school, sound familiar?) Her story revolves around Simon (think Harry Potter) and Baz (think Draco Malfoy) as they go from being mortal enemies to friends to…something more.
While, of course, there’s very little Simon Snow worldbuilding (because it’s fanfiction) the Simon/Baz parts are almost a more interesting love story than Cather and Levi. Because their love is so familiar (Harry and Draco are a popular fanfiction couple. Don’t ask me why, I don’t get it either) and because it’s so easy. They’re the only ones in their world, whereas in Cather’s life she’s confused between the attentions of several different boys, including an ex who sends her strange sporadic messages.
The best parts of Fangirl are the parts that are familiar. A girl struggling to fit into college her Freshman year. Someone who holes up in her room to write fiction for an anonymous internet audience–and feeling like bailing on the story would be doing your audience an injustice. Boy trouble that is not melodramatic but slow-building and believable.
You should read this if you’ve ever read or loved Harry Potter fanfiction, of course, but also if you’re a fanfiction writer for any category, or big into fandoms on Tumblr, or if you’ve ever gotten to college and realized that you may not be cool enough for this new life.
(Also, I got my copy of Fangirl signed by Rainbow Rowell, the author, and she was funny and pleasant and all around a kind person. Which I think is important information.)