My rating: 5/5 Stars
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin (September 2013)
Length: 438 pgs
Format: Hardcover, checked out from my local library
Goodreads Synopsis: A coming-of-age tale of fanfiction, family, and first love.
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, 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 fanfiction, 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 fanfiction 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? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?
If there is one book that encompasses the internet age and what it’s like to have been the first generation to have truly grown up within it, it’s this one. The Simon Snow fandom is a not so subtle nod to the Harry Potter fandom and is the vice, security blanket, and catalyst for the protagonist, Cath, to grow up through (which is so reflective of those of us who grew up within the world of the Harry Potter fandom). If you remember reading (or writing) fanfic, midnight book and movie releases, poster-covered bedroom walls of Daniel Radcliffe (or maybe your own little HP shrine in my case), and relating to fictional characters often better than to your real peers, Fangirl is a book that will really strike a chord with your adolescent memories.
Yet Fangirl is about so much more than Cath’s obsession with a fantasy fandom. It’s a coming-of-age story that’s (uniquely) set in college, which I love seeing in YA because there’s still a lot of personal growth to be done after high school. Though Cath may be a bit extreme in her shyness, she represents a faction of college students who feel like outliers- the ones who don’t make friends immediately and easily, the ones who don’t want to get wasted every weekend and get groped as they stumble out of bars at 4am. Rowell depicts the struggle of fitting in on a college campus when you don’t want to indulge in alcohol, and how it doesn’t invalidate your experience but rather makes it richer once you’ve found your place. Cath finds her place through the relationships she builds with older students who think she’s quirky (or even rather strange) but don’t focus on changing her, rather accepting her as she is. Rowell writes well-developed secondary characters that are so believable you wonder why you haven’t seen them around campus (my personal favorite was curvy, tell-it-like-it-is, works-at-olive-garden-and-two-other-jobs Raegen).
I’ve heard some complaints that this book doesn’t have one single, continuous, over-arching plot, but I honestly preferred it that way, as it made the story really realistic and impossible to put down because it depicted the various struggles and resolutions (and at time non-resolutions) that come during the first year of college. Fangirl is sometimes a love story, sometimes a coming-of-age story, sometimes a fanfic, sometimes a story about siblings, and sometimes a story about how you just don’t want to turn in that one assignment. There are multiple levels to this book, whether it’s about the unresolved issue of Cath and Wren’s mother’s abandonment, their dad’s manic-depressive behavior, or why they sought the comfort of an imaginary world growing up when their home life was torn apart. While not all of these issues are concretely dealt with, the novel explores the journey of self-awareness of these issues by its protagonist, which is the most realistic depiction a reader could ask for, because no one identifies and resolves multiple major life issues in two semesters.
I just want to jump up and down from the rooftops and tell people who enjoy contemporary YA lit to go out and get your hands on this novel now. If you are, have been, or ever will be, a college student, there are situations in here that you will connect with, whether they make you laugh, cry, or cringe. This is a story about the stories that play out in our everyday lives as college students, whether it’s that one guy taking all the credit for your group work, that one professor who breaks your spirit with a single grade, or rescuing your friend from a bad decision at one in the morning. Fangirl has been my number one read of 2014 so far, the book I have most connected with this year, and the book which had the characters that I really felt engaged with me-they were speaking to me, not to the protagonist and to me through the second hand echoes of typeface on a page.
This was my first read by Rowell and I am thoroughly impressed, and she’s an author who I will now not hesitate to buy from no matter the topic. She brings back the third-person narration amidst the over done first-person trend in YA and she writes fantastic stand-alone novels which is practically unheard of within YA lit. My heart is going to break when I return my copy to the library (I will most likely eventually purchase this book when I’m no longer a starving college student) and I’m anxiously awaiting getting my hands on Eleanor and Park.
Rainbow Rowell, you’ve stolen my literary heart.