Prepare for an epic Battle of the Books in this review of Fangirl VS Fangirl, vol. 1. I’m going to start with an alarming statement: This adaptation was making me hate my all-time favorite book.
*REWIND TO MY FIRST IMPRESSION*
Nothing might top the excitement I felt before opening this illustrated adaptation of my favorite book. Maybe having a movie adaptation. This is the closest I might get to that wish. I thought it was going to be like having fanart of all my favorite scenes. I mean, I have two reviews up on my blog where I talk all about my love for these characters: Why I Fangirl over Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl (Spoilers: Levi) & Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. And even more reviews of Rowell’s other books. Landline was a recent favorite for all the introverts seeking love.
Of course, I couldn’t tame the temptation of starting this book even though I was a week before an important exam… This perfectly mirrors my experience of reading Fangirl back in January 2014 for the first time, also known as the night before my math exam. I started the book before going to bed thinking it would help calm my nerves before the exam and help me fall asleep… Oh, I had to force myself to part from this book at 2am – not because I was tired (Fangirl made me feel alive) but because I couldn’t possibly think straight if I didn’t go to sleep right then and there. It’s funny the way life circles back to you.
I remember my thoughts at school that day, after reading Fangirl into the night, centered entirely on Levi. I had never before expended such intense emotions for a book. I missed being away from these characters. Is that love?
I felt like talking about Fangirl to anyone willing to listen like these characters were real people I knew. I had to hold myself back from letting all my thoughts spillover. What an experience… It’s what made me start looking for more books to read instead of browsing for new popular Wattpad stories (fans of The Cellphone Swap hit me up*).
I can’t put into words all that Fangirl got me through. It was my first physical copy of a book I loved. When I’d get bored with whatever library book I was reading Fangirl would be the book I would reach for. Anytime I was sad or anxious, I would flip to a page in Fangirl to cheer me up. Anytime an important event happens in my life I hear quotes from the book in my head mirroring my thoughts. Like when starting something new and hearing Cath’s “In new situations, all the trickiest rules are the ones nobody bothers to explain to you. (And the ones you can’t Google.)” Y’know, the best of lines.
Bottom line: This book means the world to me.
I thought I was being patient by taking my time with this adaptation instead of devouring it in one sitting. I even wrote in my notes: me being able to actually put the book aside to sleep before an important day? You know what that is growth.
I was even glad for my patience because I needed the comfort of this world after the monstrosity of that exam. In hindsight, it wasn’t patience so much as avoidance of the impending disappointment that was slowly creeping up the more I read on.
It started out fine enough at first with the initial excitement still shaping my reading experience. I was just so grateful to be back in a world I so love and cherish with new insight. Then came the first few moments of doubt creeping in with thoughts like, “Huh, why did they change that?” “Huh, why did they leave that out?” I pushed it aside thinking it was just the first few pages getting used to this storytelling. The more it happened the heavier my disappointment. In some cases having lines omitted was a big no-no. Her waking up in a new place voiced one of the most iconic lines. Why get rid of it? At one point, I started numbering each disappointment so it would be easier to find for my final review. I took endless notes. I stopped enjoying the storyline and was more focused on what next iconic line would be reduced. My only hope was to reach my favorite scene with Levi, aka reading The Outsiders.
Narrator: And that’s when she realized this is the first installment out of four and what if it ends before the best of scenes appears and she would have to wait who knows how many months more. Despair set in.
Spoiler: I hate that I skipped ahead. To my disappointment, the narrator was right. This installment ends right when things were supposed to pick up in the storyline.
I remember being utterly shocked at my realization that I was actually not enjoying this book. At all. And that’s why I wasn’t devouring it in one sitting. How was it that deep inside I knew (aka my avoidance) but it took a full day for my head to catch up? Freud was right all along. I never even considered myself being unhappy with this book as an option. It was either love or super love. Oh, youth.
Throughout my reading experience, I kept feeling like this manga was just here to complete a deadline because it took all the best lines from the book and put them on paper and c’est tout – nothing is happening on the page to bring the words alive. We already read the storyline once. The words existed before this point. This book can’t depend on the words moving us. So the art should be here as a distraction from the words. Make me feel the storyline through art so that we don’t depend on the words to move the story along. We already know what happens.
Also, it made it extremely hard to empathize with Cath in here when all her inner dialogue is essentially gone and we’re only left with what she says to others, which can come across as quite aloof and rude. Like Levi put it in the original book: “I can see why you and Reagan hit it off.” He got up to follow her. “You can both be extremely brusque sometimes.”
He’s right that other people might perceive her that way, but in Fangirl when you read her inner monologue, you can empathize with her actions. This is not the case in this manga adaptation when the majority of her inner monologue is wiped away.
Me agreeing with Wren? Unheard of. Until now. This scene might’ve legit unleashed my wrath. It triggered my flight or fight response.
In the book, you can see Cath feeling overwhelmed before this scene by all the new territory and the accompanying intense fear and anxiety she’s experiencing. You get inside her head. Here you just get this scene where her sister is trying to include her and Cath’s like, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Give us some character building so we’re on Cath’s side here. You can’t just dump it on us and expect to side with her. And one page of seeing her lonely isn’t going to cut it. We need to get inside her head.
Case in point of info dump #1:
So much T E X T.
I was supposed to get all the feels when seeing Levi… Instead, I was perplexed by the choice of art wherein Abel looks more like Levi than Levi does. I mean, let me ask the audience:
THAT’S ABEL?? He literally looks like Levi on the cover art of Fangirl…
I mean even her dad looks more like Levi than Levi does in this adaptation…
I am confusion.
Levi looks more like Gansey from The Raven Cycle with this golden prep boy aesthetic. Let’s all recall that he’s supposed to be a cute farmer boy in green Carhartt.
I guess my main disappointment in this volume stems from the art – not the style but the fact that it doesn’t add anything to the storyline. It’s like when the choreography to a song is about what the lyrics are literally saying, instead of moving your body to the feel of the song so that the audience can feel it too. I want to be moved by the words through art and not have the art transcribe the text. This is especially seen in the above info dump #1.
Shouldn’t that be the whole point of adapting a book that already exists into comic book format or manga? To re-experience the story through the art so that it feels like reading it for the first time. This is not that. These characters don’t move. There’s no life in them. I can’t imagine them talking when I close the book, you know? In the best of books, you can imagine the characters moving outside the storyline. That’s what fanfiction is about when the world is so alive you can imagine any scenario with your faves. This is what it felt like in the original book. It works so well in the original because the inner dialogue is so integral to the story.
This adaptation was making me hate my all-time favorite book. Dangerous territory for me because sir, those are my emotional support characters.
I feel like Cath when Reagan is critiquing her poster: “leave them alone, they’re in love.” They took the best parts of the book and barely gave it the time of day it deserved. All the best moments are either left out or just done poorly. I wanted this adaptation to feel like when I see fanart of my favorite scenes: Alive. I left grossly let down. And you can see I wrote this whole thesis to let it all out.
The only thing that benefited from this manga style was the Baz and Simon storyline, which is all too easy to skip over in the original book, but really fit in with this format. Maybe that’s because in Fangirl they appear so stiff and formal that this book could only benefit them.
I have this tiny sliver of hope that the next volume will pick up in speed and align the art more with the feel of the book. Also, I hope it features my favorite reading scene… All that’s keeping me afloat right now.
I guess this is why some things are better left imagined in your head rather than see it executed poorly. This is why we can’t have good things. Read my reviews of the original book instead to get a good laugh and a feel for how good this was supposed to be: Why I Fangirl over Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl (Spoilers: Levi) & Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
I have no other words left, only this line from vine which says it all: Fuck your chicken strips.
- Fans of the story until Chapter 18 iLike Him because Tallon turns into a stranger real quick from teasing and joyful to brooding and low-key annoying.
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