Fangirl was my second Rainbow Rowell novel, the first being the fantastic Eleanor & Park, so I was confident it would be a good time. What I didn’t realize was how engaging it would be, so much so that I never put it down. I picked it up to begin reading, and a few hours later, I finished it. What was it that made it so compelling? I would say it was how relatable much of the plot was, especially the parts about going off to college, away from home for the first time.
The book tells the story of Cather Avery, and to a lesser extent, her identical twin sister Wren, as they tackle their freshman year of college. Not rooming together for the first time, Cather is a nervous wreck, while Wren is ready to explore all that college has to offer. Cather’s anxiety keeps her holed up in her room, barely speaking to anyone, let alone her roommate Reagan and her alleged boyfriend Levi.
Although main characters are typically flesh and blood made out of words, this book has characters made of words who are words. Cather is a writer, specifically of fan-fiction. As she is leaving for college, she is in the midst of her magnum opus, Carry On, Simon. Carry On, Simon purports to be the eighth and final book of the Simon Snow series, a pastiche of Harry Potter.
Cather struggles with transitioning to college, hesitant to leave her bipolar father alone at home and consistently keeping one foot in her fan-fiction, refusing to fully immerse herself in college. She even encounters a professor with an adverse reaction to her fan-fiction tendencies. As a former Resident Advisor, I saw many students struggle with transitioning to college, so seeing Cather face these challenges while her sister achieves apparent success is a story I was familiar with.
One of the more interesting subplots of the story deal with Cather and her classmate Nick. The themes with Cather and her anxiety, her naiveté, and the burn of betrayal by a seeming friend. But luckily, with the help of her community, Cather comes through stronger than ever.
Underlying all of this is Cather’s aspirations to be a writer and what that means for her relationship to the Simon Snow world versus her own world-building. Her conversations with her writing professor are a fascinating look the inner turmoil Cather faces when branching out and finding her own voice.
As I’ve mentioned, I loved this book; Cather’s journey to find herself, love, confidence, and direction are a very compelling tale. I look forward to reading more of Rowell’s novels, with the first one being Carry On, an in-universe eighth book of the Simon Snow series, inspired by Cather’s fan-fiction.