I don’t know why I love books by Rainbow Rowell, I just do. They are amazingly real. Eleanor & Park stole my heart, and I was enraged when a group of ridiculous parents tried to ban it from their schools, canceled Rowell’s appearances, and demanded disciplinary action against the librarians that chose the book for a teen summer reading program. Teens need great books, great books that are real, that touch them, that make them feel understood. Grown-ups (especially those that are parents of teenagers!) need books that remind them what it feels like to be a teenager – those terribly wonderful tumultuous times. Rainbow Rowell’s books are those books. Fangirl is one of those books.
Cath is heading off to college and her twin sister, Wren, has decided that they shouldn’t be roommates. While Wren is off partying, Cath buries herself in the world of fan fiction online. Even as the author of a fan fiction for the Simon Snow series (think Harry Potter-ish world) followed ardently by thousands of people all over the world, Cath is awkward and unsure, far more comfortable in her make-believe world.
“No,” Cath said, “seriously. Look at you. You’ve got your shit together, you’re not scared of anything. I’m scared of everything. And I’m crazy. Like maybe you think I’m a little crazy, but I only ever let people see the tip of my crazy iceberg. Underneath this veneer of slightly crazy and mildly socially retarded, I’m a complete disaster.”
And you don’t need to know anything about fan fiction, or even care about it, to relate to Cath and her insecurities – she’s just so relatable – who hasn’t paused when walking into a new cafeteria for the first time?!
In new situations, all the trickiest rules are the ones nobody bothers to explain to you. (And the ones you can’t Google.) Like, where does the line start? What food can you take? Where are you supposed to stand, then where are you supposed to sit? Where do you go when you’re done, why is everyone watching you?
And all the wonderfully realistic and fascinating characters only add to the story, and to Cath’s life and struggles. There’s Reagan, the blunt, sarcastically funny, slightly wild roommate who decides she’s going to be Cath’s friend:
“I feel sorry for you, and I’m going to be your friend.”
“I don’t want to be your friend,” Cath said as sternly as she could. “I like that we’re not friends.”
“Me, too. I’m sorry you ruined it by being so pathetic.”
There’s Levi, the too nice, too relaxed, too wonderfully sweet and accepting guy with his own story and struggles:
“What’s the plan?’ she asked.
He grinned. “My plan is to do things that make you want to hang out with me again tomorrow. What’s your plan?”
“I’m going to try not to make an ass of myself.”
He grinned. “So we’re all set.”
Others at college add to Cath’s experiences – the tough but supportive professor, the charming self-centered writing partner. And of course, there’s Cath’s family – the mother who left her as a child, her twin sister who is on her own journey, and her manic-depressive father (I LOVED her father!):
“Honey, I’ve watched a lot of 90210. The parents weren’t even on the show once Brandon and Brenda went to college. This is your time – you’re supposed to going to frat parties and getting back together with Dylan.”
“Why does everybody want me to go to frat parties?”
“Who wants you to go to frat parties? I was just kidding. Don’t hang out with frat guys, Cath, they’re terrible. All they do is get drunk and watch 90210.”
The thing is, all of this could be hokey – a too sweetly perfect love story, an over-the-top family drama, a traumatic freshman college experience – but it is everything but hokey. It is real, heart-felt, touching, funny – it is life…
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Genre: YA Fiction
Publication: St. Martin’s Griffin, September 2013