Would it be too cheesy to say that I’m a fangirl of Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell? Well I am. This book is amazing. After reading Eleanor and Park, when I found out that Rainbow Rowell was publishing another novel, I was very excited. Luckily the novel lived up to my expectations.
Fangirl is a coming-of-age story about a girl named Cather who is starting her freshman year of college. The novel begins as Cath is moving into her dorm room, and we quickly learn that she is upset because she’s rooming with a stranger rather than her twin sister, Wren, with whom she expected to share a dorm room and the college experience, as they’ve shared everything else for their entire lives. Wren, however, wants to learn what it’s like not to be part of a pair. She wants the full college experience of branching out and experiencing new things, and she believes the best way to do this is separate from her sister.
Cath deals with this frustration and separation from her sister, which is exacerbated by her severe social anxiety, which keeps her from even going to the food court for weeks until her roommate finds out and drags her along. As she warms up to her roommate, she also warms up to her roommate’s boyfriend, or at least who she thinks is her roommate’s boyfriend, considering he’s always hanging around.
The college experience challenges Cath all around, and in her writing class, her professor challenges her beyond fanfiction, and Cath starts to question whether she can even be a professional writer. Fangirl is filled with the ruts and bumps that go hand-in-hand with growing well beyond one’s own comfort zone and will have you rooting for Cath along the way.
Cath is more interested in her world online where she writes popular fanfiction than what is actually going on around her. She’s a huge fangirl over a Harry Potter-level famous wizarding story called Simon Snow, and her fanfiction is sprinkled throughout the novel, adding a charming touch of insight to Cath’s world.
She also suffers from severe social anxiety. While having lunch with her sister, Wren is shocked that Cath has hardly spoken to her roommate:
“’You still haven’t talked to her?” Wren asked at lunch the next week.
“We talk,” Cath said. “She says, ‘Would you mind closing the window?’ And I say, ‘That’s fine.’ Also, ‘Hey.’ We exchange ‘heys’ daily. Sometimes twice daily.”” (p. 31)
Cath struggles with her relationships with everyone around her, making mistakes and learning from them. She fights with her sister, but she never gives up on her, although more than once she gives up on herself. She doesn’t magically learn her self-worth by the end of the story, nor does she “cure” her social anxiety, but she makes great steps toward learning who she is, standing firm in her boundaries, and mending relationships with the most important people in her life. This is what makes her not only relatable but a great role model.
Wren is the opposite of reclusive Cath; Wren likes going to parties and drinking, while Cath is horrified by the notion; Wren responds when the mother who abandoned them reaches out, while Cath puts up a wall and refuses to have anything to do with her; Wren wants to move past their Simon Snow obsession, while Cath wants to cling on. Although twins, they are very different, something that they have work through together.
Reagan is an upperclassman stuck in a freshman dorm due to overcrowding. Her bold yet apathetic personality is a good foil to Cath’s reclusion, since she helps nudge Cath outside of her restrictive personal limits without being pushy or crossing boundaries. Reagan is also very flirtatious and Cath notices that she stays out with different guys a lot. The great thing about Fangirl is that it doesn’t feed the culture of slut shaming. Cath notes her roommate’s habits but doesn’t pass judgment on her, other than wondering if her “boyfriend” realizes, but then considering that maybe he knows and is okay with having an open relationship.
Levi is one of my all-time, absolute favorite love interests ever. He always has a big, goofy grin and has the persistence and eagerness of an adorable Labrador puppy. He’s a down-to-earth country boy Ag major who drives a truck, works at Starbucks, and shares a house with way too many guys than is sanitary. The best part of Levi is that he is flawed. He is not a perfect character, despite his magnificence, and he makes a huge mistake that he and Cath have to try to work through.
Fangirl is straight-forward, without any flowery language, which is good for keeping the reader in the story. Well-written language is a pleasure to read, but sometimes it can pull the reader out of the story when they stop and say, “Wow, what a beautiful description,” rather than being immersed in the world the author created.
At the beginning of each chapter is short passage or quote from Cath’s Simon Snow fanfiction, and throughout the novel, the reader gets longer excerpts when relevant to the story. The inclusion of the Simon Snow fanfiction was a great touch, since it brings insight into Cath’s world, as Simon Snow is her obsession and takes up most of her focus. Fanfiction played a big role in my life, especially in the height of my Harry Potter obsession, so I appreciated reading the excerpts.
READ THIS BOOK RIGHT NOW. Seriously, if you haven’t read a Rainbow Rowell book yet, what are you waiting for? Her books are amazing, especially Fangirl.
Recommended for teens 14+. References sex and shows alcoholism, but portrays alcohol negatively.