Recommended for: people who like chick lit; readers who want to connect to the characters; Harry Potter fanfiction nerds (said affectionately, of course)
My rating: 5/5 (!!!)
Life lesson: Adaptability is overrated.
Do you ever fall into a reading slump? I’ve been reading a lot this summer, but I haven’t loved anything I’ve picked up. Sure, there were some good novels in there (Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly and the Dairy Queen trilogy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock), but the books I’ve read so far have been, overwhelmingly, duds. So, it was incredibly refreshing to fall in love with Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl.
Cather, better known as Cath (thank goodness, because whenever someone said her full name, I couldn’t help but think uncomfortably about catheters…we’ve been watching too much House on Netflix around here. But I digress.), is the quirky narrator of this story. She has a neglectful twin, Wren, and a mentally unstable father, Art. Their mother is out of the picture, but becomes part of an underdeveloped plot point later in the novel. Long story short (sorry, Rainbow Rowell), Cath and Wren go to college (say their names together quickly, what do you hear?); Wren easily adapts, but Cath faces sometimes crippling anxiety about the numerous changes in her life. There are a supporting cast of characters, the most important of which are Cath’s roommate Reagan, and Reagan’s boyfriend, Levi. Sometimes, Cath is lost in a world of her own creation — she writes fanfiction for a Harry Potter doppelganger named Simon Snow.
The strength in this novel is the characters; Cath in particular spoke to me (literally, I guess, she is the third person narrator). So much of what Cath goes through in the novel gave me flashbacks to my freshman year of college. I, too, went to an in-state school a few hours from my hometown; I, too, felt overwhelmed by the change in my world; I, too, had a difficult time making friends and finding my niche. Both Cath and I lived in the same home, with the same friends, until we went to college — it’s an abrupt transition and I could commiserate. Her pain, loneliness, and anxiety were my pain, loneliness, and anxiety. For me, this is the mark of an excellent writer; when you can make a character so real that the reader pictures herself or himself as that character, you’ve written a fantastic book.
I also really enjoyed how Rowell added short pieces of Cath’s fanfiction in between each chapter. It helped break up the narrative, and if you read closely, each excerpt gave you even more insight into Cath’s thoughts and emotions about what’s happening in her life.
Here are a few lines that jumped out at me:
“She just needed to settle her nerves. To take the anxiety she felt like black static behind her eyes an an extra heart in her throat, and shove it all back down into her stomach where it belonged — where she could at least tie it into a nice knot and work around it” (5).
“Cath felt like she was swimming in words. Drowning in them sometimes. …’But the words fly out of me so fast, I don’t know where they’re coming from'” (100-101).
“His eyes were absolutely gleaming with mirth. Putting out light” (111).
“Reagan was sitting at Cath’s desk when Cath woke up. ‘Are you awake?’ ‘Have you been watching me sleep?’ ‘Yes, Bella. Are you awake?'” (286 — such a hilarious, subtle, Twilight reference!)
Some may see Fangirl as a love story, and Cath does have a couple romantic interests, but it’s really about Cath finding her way and becoming a young woman. If you like chick lit with a literary bent, or if you like Nebraska, or family drama, or just a fantastic story, give this one a chance!