Cather and Wren’s mother was not eager to have a baby at all, and when it turned out to be twins, she couldn’t even bother to come up with a second name; she just divided the one she’d chosen in half. When the girls were eight years old, she threw in the towel for good. They found out about her decision on September 11, 2001, so while the rest of the country mourned, Cath and Wren cried for a different reason. Bonded together more than ever, the twins spent their time taking care of their sweet but unstable father and writing fan fiction about the incredibly popular Simon Snow series. Cath did most of the writing, and Wren was her beta reader. By the time they went to college, Magicath had thousands of regular readers.
Cather imagined that life would continue as usual, fitting in her schoolwork around her fanfiction writing, but Wren wanted the full-on college experience. She arranged to have a different room from her sister, made all new friends, and did not fit her schoolwork in around drinking and partying. Cather’s roommate was aggressive and hostile, and her boyfriend was nosy. Furthermore, the boy who was assigned to be her writing partner in one of her classes was riding on Cather’s writing skills, and even stealing her ideas and words. After one assignment, Cath was shocked to find out that her professor did not consider fanfiction to be original writing! She protested the failing grade that she’d received, and her prof gave her the opportunity to make it up, but Cath held out on principle. While Cath dithered on raising her grade in her most important class and Wren continued to implode, Cath’s romantic life became very complicated and their father chose that moment to have a breakdown.
Rainbow Rowell has written a complex and delightful coming-of-age novel in which every character needs to come of age: the main characters, the roommates, the boyfriends, and the parents. Furthermore, Rowell has created her own metafiction! The very Potteresque Simon Snow is the creation of another fictional author, and there are excerpts from that series scattered between chapters. In a second layer, there are bits of Cather’s Simon Snow fanfiction between chapters, and long segments reprinted within the narrative of the top layer, which is Cather’s real-life story, in which she writes the fanfiction. It seems complicated, but the reader will sail through without a single hiccup.
I am a huge Rainbow Rowell fan, and I’ve read all three of her extant novels, all of which I’ve reviewed on this blog. While many of my friends loved Fangirl the best because they identify with Cather’s emotions and experiences during college, Eleanor and Park is still my favorite. This may be because (shocking children’s librarian confession) I liked, but did not love, Harry Potter. I mean, I liked Harry personally, and wanted to take him home and feed him, but I did not love the books. Plus, I was an adult with a young child when Harry was first published, so he had nothing to do with my college days. Tolkien, yes. Harry, no. Be that as it may, Fangirl can be loved all for its own sake, and I do love it. I just love Eleanor and Park more.
A friend of mine met Rainbow Rowell at Book Expo America in May and called me at work immediately, squealing because she knew I was a big fan. I asked her if Ms. Rowell was as nice in real life as she seemed on the back flap of her books, and she said she was even nicer. I’m always glad to know that a person I’ve spent so much time with lives up to my mental image!
I can highly recommend Fangirl to pretty much everyone, but particularly teens and college students—especially nerdy ones and readers—as well as adults who are Harry Potter fans, too. If you don’t fit into any of those categories, read it anyway, plus Rainbow Rowell’s other great novels. Fangirl will hit the shelves on September 10th.
Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this book. My opinions are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.