When can you start calling yourself a fan of an author? After one book, or two? I think, after having read three Rainbow Rowell books, and having enjoyed them all to different degrees, I’d probably call myself a Rowell fan. I loved Eleanor and Park, I enjoyed Attachments (though I found it flawed), and now Fangirl has become my first five-star book of the year.
Cath and Wren are identical twins, starting college together. Where Wren is outgoing and looking forward to all the new experiences college will bring, Cath isn’t so keen on change. She’s an anxious, shy and self-conscious young woman who takes refuge in the online fandom of Simon Snow, a series of novels for which she is an online-famous fanfiction writer. During their first two semesters of college, Cath constantly feels betrayed by her sister, first by her insistence that they don’t share a room, and then by her seeming rejection of all things Simon Snow. Wren is branching out, but Cath is struggling. As well as coming to terms with all her anxieties about college, she is worried about her father, who has mental health issues that are coming to the forefront in the face of his two daughter flying the nest, and the fact that her mother, who walked out on the family on 9/11 seems to want to reconnect.
I’ve been wanting to read Fangirl ever since I heard about it. I read Eleanor and Park and Attachments in place of Fangirl because I was having trouble getting hold of it. I find the whole fandom thing quite fascinating; I consider myself a part of various fandoms, in minor ways compared to most people, but I’ve definitely dipped my toe in the worlds of different online fandoms, and I’ve read fanfiction. So it’s interesting to read a whole novel that centres around this world.
Rowell’s characterisation is excellent; in both this and Eleanor and Park, she manages to put her finger on exactly what it feels like to be a teenager. I think a lot of people will see themselves in Cath; she chooses to hide away instead of getting out there and trying new things. She doesn’t go to the dining hall, because she doesn’t know how it works. Where does she queue, and where does she sit? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stopped myself from doing things I want to do because I don’t know the etiquette, and I don’t want to look like an idiot. Cath worries about everything, not least about her dad, who is experiencing his own issues, and from whom she worries she has inherited these issues. But everyone knows that even the most seemingly well-adjusted teenagers have their own problems, and Wren doesn’t escape from experiencing troubles of her own. I finished the book thinking that it would be interesting to read the story from Wren’s perspective; she is also dealing with being a college freshman, her dad’s problems and the re-emergence of her mother in their lives. She deals with these things differently, but her story would be just as interesting, I think.
Of course, this being a Young Adult/New Adult novel, there are boys in Cath’s life. She develops an unusual but strong friendship with her roommate, Reagan, and in doing so, becomes friends with Levi, the boy she assumes is Reagan’s boyfriend. This doesn’t stop her from developing a guilty crush on him though, and she spends some time worrying about this. Then there’s Nick, the boy from her fiction writing class who seems to be flirting with her when they work together late into the night on their joint story. In the background of all this drama is the fact that Cath is trying to find out who she is as a writer. She immerses herself in the world of Simon Snow, because this is where she feels safest, and writing her own characters just doesn’t seem to measure up.
I am an unabashed fangirl of Fangirl. It’s a fabulous story that isn’t without its flaws, but its huge heart and fabulous characters allow me to see past them and just enjoy the story for what it is; a coming of age novel that reminded me what it is like to be on the verge of adulthood, having to deal with everything that comes with it.
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
First published: September 2013
Borrowed from a friend