Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell is cute, relatable, and touching.
I’m a nonfiction person- I like true crime, journalism, and feminist books- but this young adult novel was a nice change of pace for my reading list. For starters, the book is set on a college campus in 2011. The main character, Cath, is getting used to college as a freshman. Maybe it’s because I also came to college in 2011 that I felt a connection to the story. Or maybe it was the references to how Cath and her twin sister, Wren, remembered 9/11 happening when they were in elementary school. That’s a sad thing to relate to, but it’s also a unifying experience that everyone of a certain age has. I still feel shocked when one of my student workers tells me that they don’t remember 9/11, or (gasp) they weren’t even born yet! They don’t remember Y2K either- which, if you don’t know how important that was, here’s an example: my husband’s family of 11 stockpiled food and supplies for months leading up to Y2K, only for nothing to really happen. There’s nothing wrong with not remembering 9/11 or Y2K, though. It just makes me feel old.
Anyway, back to Fangirl. So Cath and Wren go to college, and Wren wants time away from Cath. College is scary for Cath, who struggles with anxiety, but she manages to make a small cast of interesting friends. One of these friends turns out to be a love interest for Cath, and their romance is pretty cute. They’re very different in personality and interests, but they both put a lot of effort in their relationship, which is heartwarming to read about. Plus, this character brings out the best in Cath, who can often withdraw when she really needs to be asking for help.
Another major point in the book includes Cath coming into her own as a writer. She excels at fanfiction writing- in fact, she’s writing a really long and Internet-famous piece about Simon Snow (who is basically this world’s Harry Potter). However, Cath learns in her Fiction Writing class that she may need to branch out and create her own characters.
Fangirl also has brief but powerful descriptions of mental illness and, thankfully, getting the help the characters need. Cath’s family has trouble coming to terms with the reappearance of Cath’s distant mother, Cath’s father struggles with manic/depressive episodes, and Wren has to face up to an alcohol addiction. Still, in all of the turmoil, the characters make progress in their treatments and with their relationships. It’s encouraging to read about mental illness in a real way- it’s hard, it affects others in your life, but there is also help for those who need it.
I’d recommend Fangirl to any freshman who’s still new to college, growing up, and figuring out your relationships (with family, friends, or significant others). I’d also recommend it to people who have graduated already and want to take a look back at how things used to be. It’s nostalgic without being overwhelming. Added bonus: if you love Harry Potter, you will definitely relate to Cath’s Simon Snow obsession.
Content note: Fangirl contains some suggestive scenes and language.