Rainbow Rowell’s first YA novel, Eleanor & Park, spent six weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, and for good reason – it is a touching, but realistic tale of teenage romance that stays with you well after you’ve finished reading. As someone who reads a huge number of books, finding one that stays with me for weeks – all while reading other books – is rare. As such, I had high expectations for her second novel, Fangirl, but a part of me wondered if Rowell could really pull it off twice.
I needn’t have worried. Fangirl connected with me on such a deep level that I’m really going to have to hold back the gushiness. Cath and Wren are identical twins that couldn’t be more different – Wren is outgoing and a little wild while Cath is introverted and restrained. That is, except for when Cath is writing her Simon Snow (a fictional young adult series similar to Harry Potter) fan fiction. When it comes to writing fan fiction, Cath knows exactly what to say, and she’s an expert at fictional romance. But when it comes to the real thing… it’s a struggle.
I’d better disclose that part of the reason this novel resonated with me is probably because I saw a lot of my teenage self in Cath. She is what a lot of people would call shy, but she really just prefers the company of books. Cath also has these unjustified concerns (like where to line up in the dining hall to get dinner) that end up being quite debilitating (her answer to the dining hall concern was to live off energy bars in her room). She is a wonderfully likeable character (she might be withdrawn, but she is incredibly determined) who reveals a lot about what it is like to be truly introverted. In fact, if you are not introverted, this book should be a must-read, just to find out how the other half lives.
Fangirl is written from Cath’s POV, but has parts of the Simon Snow novels, and parts of Cath’s fan fiction, woven in. This could have made the book feel a little segmented, but Rowell does a wonderful job at juxtaposing the chapters so that the Simon Snow characters, and Cath, go through similar experiences in their different worlds. As Cath goes through her first year of college/university, she has to learn to balance the fictional world she lives in, with the real one. It is a tough lesson to learn, but Cath’s journey is an engaging one, and Rowell writes so much skill, weaving in poignancy and humour to every page.
If you love books, and have ever thought about what happens to characters once you finish reading, then you will love Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl. It draws you into two worlds – Cath’s, and the world she writes about – with incredible ease, and leaves you satisfied, but wanting more.