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 sister, 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 fan fiction, 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 fan fiction 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? Writing her own stories? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?
There’s something about Rainbow Rowell’s third novel Fangirl that captured the gist of struggling to grow up and trying to figure out your own person when you have always been busily losing yourself in stories and fictional character’s lives rather than your own that made me fall irrevocably, head-over-heels in love with both this book’s plot and characters. Fangirl is a lot of things, but most importantly it’s disarmingly clever, heartwarmingly quirky, ridiculously charming and delightfully genuine. Attending college is rocky enough as it is, leaving behind everything you’ve known for the better part of your life – friends, family and familiar surroundings – in order to go out in the world to widen your horizon, as they say, and let go of everything you’ve thought has defined yourself thus far. And Rowell illustrates the different reactions that can be triggered by such life-changing circumstances with twins Cath and Wren, who are perfect to portray two different perspectives because they are initially as alike as they possibly cold be due to their genetics, upbringing and mutual love for the Simon Snow book series, but who find themselves at a crossroads from each other and on two wildly different paths to self-discovery over the course of the book. While the two used to be super close and obsessed with the fandom’s fanfiction branch – writing stories about title character Simon Snow and nemesis Baz – they have come to grow apart in the months after graduation and drifted even further now that their first semester has started. While Wren has decided to become more outgoing and free-spirited, Cath has remained faithful to the characters she has spend her childhood with. Timid and anxious, Cath is not only worried about her twin, she’s also struggling with social anxiety and fear for her single dad who is now living alone in their family home and trying to cope with his own personal demons. Cath tries to escape college by holding on to Simon and Baz for dear life but she doesn’t succeed for long, with Rowell introducing Cath’s promiscuous roommate Reagan and her maybe/maybe-not boyfriend, Carhartt-clothed and Starbucks-employed Levi to the equation. Both characters complement Cath so well, it is positively uncanny how real and lively they all become, so much so that they manage to pop right out of the page together. In between chapters, Rowell has selected fanfiction excerpts written by Cath that perfectly harmonize with the story’s progression, too. There are a whole lot of other struggles going on between Fangirl’s pages, and that is what makes it such an addictive read for all age groups, really. Let me just tell you how refreshing it was to read about a college experience that actually – gasp – was an honest depiction of it, one that didn’t feel forced or suffocated by superfluous and scandalized character and plot tropes (I’m looking at you, New Adult!). Sure, Fangirl has its ups and downs, but Rowell writes them well, and they never feel fabricated or alien to the story. Everyone who loves books and stories about the love for books and stories will feel right at home with this novel – there’s romance, there are family feuds, there’s friendship, and then there’s that perfect understanding of that in-between stage of your life that made you feel powerless or confused or lonely even, and it still manages to leave you with an hopeful undertone, because that’s just how Rowell does it – she manages to write about life in a way that is honest and ongoing, but most importantly reassuring. And then there’s that amazing scene with Cath and Levi featuring S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders that doesn’t hurt, either.