Fangirl is Rainbow Rowell’s third novel and was published back in 2013. I have not been able to find but one Rowell novel at Half Price Books, like, ever – Psshh, forget the Nobel, Pulitzer, etc. this is the highest mark of a good book to me, you know a novel is special when everyone wants to keep their copy (Kidding. Sort of.).
Fangirl is the story of Cath. Cath is many things, a loving daughter to her slightly manic father, a hard-working scholarship student, a loyal best friend to her twin sister, Wren. Most of all though, Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Scratch that, Cath is more like THE Simon Snow fan. Simon Snow is a book series following a young wizard at a magic school and his journey to defeat the wizarding world’s greatest threat (sound familiar?), and has a serious fandom (sound familiar?). While her sister Wren has mostly grown out of writing Simon Snow fanfiction, Cath is pretty much the acting authority in the fanfiction community with thousands of people reading her story, Carry On, daily.
As the novel opens, Cath and Wren are off to college and Cath really isn’t all that excited about it, mostly because Wren has decided it is time that they learned a little independence from each other. They have never really been on their own, their name even, is one name split into two – Cather and Wren, Catherine. Wren is the brave one; outgoing, friendly, happy to jump into new situations. Cath is not. So she is definitely unhappy about one thing in particular – going potluck on the freshman dorm situation. Cath’s roommate is Reagan, a loud, confident, brash, unapologetic upperclassmen and never in their room, which suits Cath fine. Because Cath is always in their room – like, always. Uninterested in making friends, drinking and just general fun-making, Cath is focused on school and finishing her crazy-popular Simon Snow fanfic, Carry On, before the last book comes out. And yet, oddly, you don’t dislike Cath. At least, I didn’t. She’s kind of judgey and a bit of a shut-in but she is somehow not annoying about it – I think maybe because she is also very real. She is clever and funny, a little self-deprecating, aware of her anxiety and that she is a college anomaly but also confident when it comes to what matters to her – her family and writing. This is perhaps my favorite thing about Rowell’s writing; she draws complete characters.
As the story goes on, Cath falls further and further away from Wren who is busy frat-partying and binge-drinking with her new roommate. Its especially hard for Cath who struggles with anxiety, and not without reason (of course, not that one needs a reason to struggle with anxiety). Cath and Wren’s mother left them when they were children, their father is manic-depressive and Wren acts as if nothing ever happened. I think this is the reason for Cath’s devotion to Simon Snow and the fandom. While it is fun for her, her story is really a place where she can escape to, and where she can control the outcome of her character’s lives. She has a power and assertiveness in her writing that she doesn’t feel she has in her own life.
You’ll be happy to know that Cath does manage to make a friend or two – Reagan and Reagan’s maybe boyfriend/maybe best friend Levi. Reagan is grudgingly accepting of Cath’s Simon Snow obsession as long as she isn’t a total weirdo about it and at least attempts normal activities and human interaction. Levi is a just a great big ball of life-affirming, kind, positive energy who is totally on-board with fanfiction and is an actual fan of Cath’s stories. I love Levi yall. Cath and Levi end up spending a lot of time together since he is always in their room waiting for Reagan to study, go to a party, etc. Cath isn’t sure of the relationship between Reagan and Levi, are they together, are they not? While it is obvious to the rest of us that Levi is totally into Cath. Watching the relationship between Cath and Levi evolve from friendship to romance is so tender and lovely. Because Cath is kind of oblivious and thinks they are just friends, she is able to be totally herself with Levi. She shares with him her fanfiction, her fears about her dad, her anger at her mother’s abandonment and her grief at the distance between her and Wren. And Levi takes each part of Cath and just accepts her. I think my favorite part of their relationship is watching Cath grow into herself with Levi. She has always been anxious and felt like she doesn’t have control and yet with Levi she is able to confidently navigate the relationship – from setting physical boundaries and voicing her concern over what she means to him, to watching her choose to erase those boundaries and admit her own love and happiness with him. Its just a great relationship and a couple that you really want to root for.
I would and will absolutely read Fangirl again. I’ve said it in other posts, and this one,and I’ll say it again. I just love Rainbow Rowell’s writing. She writes funny, fun, cool, real characters that you just want to get to know.