Fangirl Book Cover Fangirl
Rainbow Rowell
St. Martin's Griffin
September 10, 2013

In Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl, Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan, but for Cath, being a fan is her life--and she's really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it's what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath's sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can't let go. She doesn't want to.
Now that they're going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn't want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She's got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can't stop worrying about her dad, who's loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?

Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

“Quit reading that crap and pick up a book for heaven’s sake!” said I to my fanfic reading daughter at least a thousand times.   But after reading Fangirl by the practically perfect Rainbow Rowell, I say: No More!  This book took this reader deep into the world of fanfic and made me fall in love with it.  This is the world of Cath, the main character who is hobbling through her freshmen year in college.  It takes a while for her to find her footing, but once she does, we know she is going to take off in wonderful ways.

First, a little about the plotline:

Cath and Wren are identical twin sisters.  Unhappy to find herself pregnant, their mother is too overwhelmed when she gives birth to twins to even come up with a second name, so she just breaks the chosen name of Catherine in half.  And not too many years later, she takes off, leaving her daughters to care for their loving, sweet and bipolar dad.

The girls have grown up completely intertwined.  They do everything together.  Their biggest project is the creation of fan fiction about a book series called Simon Snow, which has major similarities to Harry Potter.  This story occurs during the year of the publication of the last book in the series, and Cath is racing to finish her version of the story before the release of the final installment.  This aspect of the story will bring back sweet memories for those of you who lived through the years that the saga of Harry Potter was slowly revealed.  The anticipation was intense and sometimes painful.  Rowell captures this anticipation in all of its frustrating glory.

Cath is head and shoulders above the average fanfic writer.  She has literally tens of thousands of followers, some who love her stories better than the original.  Those of you who read Harry Potter fanfic will recognize her thread.  The protagonist, Simon Snow falls in love with Basil, who bears some resemblance to Draco Malfoy.  Significant sections of this book are passages of Cath’s fanfic that she reads aloud to the young man, Levi, best friend of her roommate Reagan.

But that is later in the story, so let me back up.  The book opens with Cath and Wren leaving for college.  Cath is anxious about her father, concerned about whether or not he will remain stable without his girls to anchor him.  But she is excited too, as she will be studying creative writing from a renowned professor.  The shock that blows her excitement is Wren’s announcement that she wants some space apart from Cath.  She wants to start forming an identity as a person separate from her twin.  She does not want to room with Cath.  She does not want to help her write fanfic anymore.  She changes her appearance so they no longer look identical.  Cath lacks Wren’s social ease, and feels abandoned and terrified.

Cath lands in a dorm room with the older and unpleasant Reagan, who always has her boyfriend Levi hanging around.  It is clear that Reagan has a lot more worldly experience, and Cath is intimidated.  She is also mortified to always have the eager, puppylike Levi in her room.  Her lack of confidence is so great that she won’t even go to the cafeteria to eat, and so survives on protein bars for the first few weeks of school.  At some point, Reagan figures out that Cath is not doing well, and reluctantly takes her under her wing.  Levi, who, we find out is actually Reagan’s ex (but they are still best friends), is happy to bring Cath into their little circle, and she begins to adapt to life on campus.

The novel follows Cath’s first year as a college student, and her hard work of figuring out who she is when she is not tied at the hip to her sister.  Wren starts trying to rebuild a relationship with their mother, which infuriates Cath, who has no intentions of forgiving her for abandoning them.  Wren, like a lot of freshman, is spending heavy time on the party circuit and seems to be thriving on her own.  Cath hits a lot of bumps, even after she settles into a pleasant friendship with Reagan and Levi.  A possible romance with a fellow student in her writing class, conflict with her writing professor who has no respect for Cath’s fanfic, and several family crises make for a difficult year.  But Cath is a woman who was meant to write, and that becomes her rock solid bottom line.

I love this book.  Rowell’s first YA novel, Eleanor and Park was a great piece of writing, and I loved every word of it.  What amazes me is how quickly she released a second YA book.  I expected the quality to be poorer (Eleanor and Park was released in February 2013, Fangirl in September 2013 – just 8 months apart) but Fangirl is at least as good, if not better.  The stories are very different, as are the characters. But the world she creates, and the emotional honesty of her characters make this story fly off the page, yanking  the reader out of her/his chair and right into the world of Rowell’s stories. This woman is a great, great writer.

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I have spent the last ten years working with teenagers at my public library. When I started this job, I thought it might be a good idea to read some young adult lit, you know, so I could like…relate. As the mother of young teenagers, I have to admit that at first, it was shock and awe. One of the first YA novels I read involved a teenage anorexic girl who finds healing in an incestuous relationship – it did not go down well. (I do feel empathy for the parents who come to me complaining about the content of some of the books, but I try to encourage them to read more and read deeply. And I am happy to say that we have never, in my years at this library, removed a book from the teen area due to a complaint.) But now, hundreds of books into my exploration of teen lit, I can say I really love the genre.

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