Fangirl, Vol. 1: The Manga

Book review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Fangirl, Vol. 1: The Manga Book Poster Image
Rainbow Rowell fans will love revisiting Cath's story.

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Educational Value

Readers will learn about fanfiction and how it can encourage young writers and fans to express their creativity within the universe of an established work -- book, movie, show, etc. Fangirl also explores how some writers don't consider fanfiction a legitimate form of creative writing. Readers will also explore mental health issues such as social anxiety.

Positive Messages

Fangirl is about loving books, and how loving books can change your life. There are wonderful messages about compassion and empathy as well as the process of writing, how fanfiction can help a fan/writer play within the established characters and universe of another work. The story also stresses the importance of sibling bonds and parent-child closeness.

Positive Role Models

Cath is brilliant and talented but also painfully anxious, isolate, and socially awkward. She learns, albeit slowly, how to branch out and get to know people. Levi is generous, kind, and thoughtful. Reagan is surly and opinionated but ultimately a good friend to Cath. Cath and Wren's dad is devoted and caring to his daughters.

Violence
Sex

The characters, who are all over 18, discuss their romantic relationships and Cath's lack of experience. Cath admits feeling "tuned in" to the young men on campus after her boyfriend breaks up with her.

Language

Occasional (but not frequent) strong language: "f--k," "bitch," "sucks, "a--hole."

Consumerism

Levi works at Starbucks and makes a couple of drinks for Cath.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Discussion of drinking and getting drunk. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Fangirl, Vol. 1: The Manga is a graphic novel adaptation of Rainbow Rowell's bestselling second YA novel, Fangirl, the college-set coming-of-age story about an introverted and socially anxious fanfiction writer. Adapted by Sam Maggs and illustrated by Gabi Nam, the black-and-white manga version is the first of four installments and covers the first quarter of the book. Although the new medium makes it difficult to incorporate every single word from the book, it's mostly all there, including a few curse words ("f--k," "bitch," "a--hole"), underage drinking and partying, and the early moments of the central romantic relationship. The same themes are discussed: social anxiety, literary fandom, mental illness, sibling relationships, and adapting to college life.

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What's the story?

FANGIRL was one of the biggest young adult books of 2013, catapulting Rainbow Rowell into a bonafide YA superstar after Eleanor & Park. The book returns as a manga adapted by Sam Maggs and illustrated by Gabi Nam. This first installment covers the beginning of Cath Avery's freshman year at the University Of Nebraska. Because her identical twin Wren wanted to branch out, Cath, who deals with social anxiety, faces being alone for the first time. The moment she steps into her dorm room, Cath finds a guy in it. His name is Levi, and he's apparently the boyfriend of her roommate Reagan, a junior scholarship student. Cath is intimidated by Reagan's worldliness and Levi's gegarious nature. Except for class, Cath rarely leaves the room and spends most of her time writing Simon Snow (a Harry Potter-like fantasy series) fanfiction. Within the Simon Snow fandom, Cath, known as "Magicath" online, is a big deal. Her fanfic is followed by tens of thousands of readers. Because the eighth and final book is to be released in May, Cath has the school year to finish her epic fanfic before the author's official book closes the series. Cath's favorite class is an upper-level fiction writing course, in which she meets Nick, an upperclassmen she teams up with on a writing project. As she gets to know Nick better, she also starts to enjoy Levi's constant company -- even though he "belongs" to her roommate.

Is it any good?

The beloved tribute to fandom and first love works beautifully as a graphic novel, with the black-and-white art capturing Cath's anxiety and loneliness and her devotion to fictional characters. Instead of being indented and in different font, the fanfic in the manga is framed in black, making it stand out to the "real life" proceedings. There are slightly fewer fanfic interludes in the comic, and there's also a tightening of the story and some minor but positive changes of the text. An Emergency Kanye Party filled with artist-specific rapping transforms into an Emergency Dance Party where the visuals of the dancing outweigh the playlist; one off descriptions of "rapey" and "Gimpy" and "socially retarded" are also changed, but those improvements will likely only be picked up by folks who re-read the original before starting the comic. All the main lines and plot points are still present.

The best part of the manga is that it makes Cath's story more accessible to a new generation of teen readers who may not have read the original. It's every bit as poignant and funny and sweet, but with excellent accompanying art that is sure to spark conversation about whether the characters were depicted as readers imagine. Nam has perfectly captured the details of Rowell's characters: Cath's Simon tee-and-jeans wardrobe, Reagan's voluptuous beauty,  Levi's widow's peak and Carharrt coat, etc. But it's not just the physical descriptions that are faithful but the personalities and emotional range that come through in the art: Cath's shy, anxious, and private demeanor, Levi's kindness and generosity (the boy meets her at the library twice a week just to accompany her back to her dorm), Reagan's confidence, Wren's edgy adventurousness. The art, like the story, is vivid and memorable, and a wonderful first or re-read.

 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the medium of comics/manga and how it suits the story of Fangirl. What did you like best about the new version? Is there anything you missed from the original?

  • Discuss the drinking in the book. How is alcohol use portrayed on a college campus? Why is underage drinking so prevalent on college campuses, when most students aren't old enough to drink until their third or fourth year?

  • What did you think of how the Simon Snow excerpts are depicted? Which did you prefer, the "canon" Simon Snow excerpts or Cath and Wren's fanfics? Are you interested in reading Rowell's Carry On that makes Cath's version canon?

  • Do you consider anyone in the story (so far) to exhbit noteworthy character strengths? Which ones?

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