We all inevitably know a “fangirl” in our lives (or fanboy). From (Harry) Potterheads to Justin Bieber and even Apple or Android fans, the term “fangirl” inevitably summons a clear image: a young woman, most often in her teens, obsessed with some part of popular culture. There’s more to it than that though, and Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl delightfully explores the life of one in particular with this touching coming-of-age story.
Cath is a college freshman who is obsessed with the Simon Snow book series (a Harry Potter stand-in). She basically has all the Simon Snow merchandise and is even an Internet famous fanfiction writer, best known for her alternate reality fic that pairs the protagonist Simon Snow with his archenemy Baz, an evil vampire.
Her twin sister and best friend Wren also used to share in her Simon Snow obsession, but now before the start of college, Wren has been pulling away from Cath, going so far as to not wanting to be roommates with her. Since Cath is the shy introvert of the pair, this makes it extra difficult to settle into college life. Not only that, Wren’s new partying lifestyle further divides the pair due to Cath’s quick and vocal judgments.
The story takes place over freshman year, with Cath experiencing a plethora of differing relationships and occurrences that aren’t farfetched. Along with difficulties of adjusting to moving away from her mentally ill father and Wren’s coldshoulder, Cath must learn how to deal with her seemingly mean roommate, a backstabbing classmate, and a confusing love interest. While all this sounds cliché, Rowell’s telling remains realistic and relatable. Cath is a flawed protagonist to be sure, but my inner young adult couldn’t help but completely understand where she comes from and how she feels. It’s easy to place oneself in her shoes in one way or another.
Rowell gives each character a rare depth that makes the story all the more enticing. Certain points seem to drag on since Cath won’t stop thinking about the same issue and it gets old fast at times, but this is mostly due to Cath’s naïve thought processes being too self-absorbed occasionally, as she is the story’s narrator. This is to be expected though, given her age an (in)experience with the world. She’s so involved with the like-minded online community that she struggles to find her place in a more diverse real world setting. Despite this, I can’t help but root for Cath as I can remember myself being in very similar shoes not too long ago.
Although there is no doubt of the high caliber that is Fangirl, one storyline that stands out as being overly melodramatic is Cath’s (and Wren’s) relationship with their estranged mother. A lot of Cath’s faults become emphasized when it comes to her mother, to the point of parody, and take up a little too many pages in the book. This would almost be excusable if it didn’t include Cath being unusually unreasonable towards Wren, who actually wants to pursue a relationship with their mother. Cath’s controlling manner becomes irksome because it is brought forth so much that it stops serving the plot. Nevertheless, it highlights key difference in Cath and Wren’s character that adds more dimension to them, though this could have been achieved better through other means.
Lastly, Rowell mixes in chapters of Cath’s Carry On, Simon fan fic throughout the story as well as chapters from the fictional book series (all written by Rowell, of course). These breaks from Cath’s head are sometimes necessary to keep the reader from growing tired of her whininess at certain points and give the reader another story to immerse in. These snippets have gained so much popularity that Rowell has published Carry On, the last book in the Simon Snow series, as a standalone novel.
Fangirl is a delightful coming-of-age story that, for the most part, realistically portrays timeless issues that many teens face while entering adulthood and also new facets of growing up in the cyber-age. This is a definite must-read for any fangirl or fanboy, regardless of age.