Rainbow Rowell burst on the young adult literature scene in early 2013 with her novel Eleanor and Park, an unconventional romance about two misfit Omaha teens who meet on the school bus and fall in love. That book garnered a bunch of rave reviews and a sizeable following of fans, many of whom have been eagerly awaiting (understandably enough) the release of Rowell's second YA novel, Fangirl.
Like her debut, Fangirl is set in Rowell's home state of Nebraska. This time, however, the setting is primarily Lincoln, home to the state university. Cath is about to start her freshman year there, as is her identical sister Wren. Cathwho would always rather be squirreled away in her room instead of meeting new peoplefeels both terrified and betrayed when Wren admits that she doesn't want to room together. Wren, on the other hand, makes friends easily and loves the party scene. She wants to make dozens of new friends in collegeleaving Cath feeing more alone than ever.
Cath's roommate, Reagan, can be abrasive at times, but thanks to a rotating roster of boyfriends, she's hardly ever in their room. Too scared of new experiences to even seek out the dining hall, Cath tries to subsist on protein bars and peanut butter in between avoiding Reagan and her overly friendly ex-boyfriend Levi.
The only thing Cath's looking forward to in college is her "Intro to Fiction Writing" course. After all, she is something of an expert at writing fiction, or, more precisely, fanfic. She's made a name for herself as "Magicath," the author of Carry On, Simon, a wildly successful online takeoff on the hugely popular Simon Snow series by Gemma T. Leslie (a thinly veiled version of Harry Potter). In Cath's world, Simon and his archrival Baz are not only roommatesthey're also secretly in love with each other. But, as much as Cath has been anticipating the Fiction Writing course, and as much as she admires and wants to impress her professor, the Simon Snow characters are so vivid in her imagination that she finds it hard, if not impossible, to write stories not set in Simon's world.
Fangirl follows Cath's journey through her first year of college, as she gradually (and often reluctantly) forms friendships, grieves the evolving relationship with Wren, worries about their vulnerable empty-nester father, and even about her first genuine romantic relationships. As the year progresses, so does Cath's understanding of herself. All the time, however, the clock is ticking, as Cath needs to wrap up the plotlines in Carry On, Simon before the release of Gemma T. Leslie's final canonical installment.
Cath's struggles to balance her passion for writing (and, perhaps equally, for online validation of her writing and her self) with the academic and social demands of college are very realistic. The setting of Fangirl on a Midwestern college campus, among students with rural and middle-class backgrounds, is an unusual one in YA literature. Too often, the enforced independence that college imposes is depicted through boarding school settings instead, which not many readers might readily be able to relate to. Fangirl should prove a good incentive for other YA authors to take advantage of the more accessible college setting for their coming-of-age stories.
Cath is a character many readers can empathize with. These include not just those who, like her, feel like their most authentic selves reside online, but also anyone who has felt like an outsider when thrust into a new situation. Some might question what, in her admittedly complicated family and personal history, makes Cath so scared of intimacy - particularly physical intimacy. This nearly pathological fear is not entirely justified by her story.
More likely, however, they will accept this trait as part of her multifaceted personality and be eager to get to know and understand the whole Cathas she gradually learns how to write, and live, her own stories.
This review is from the October 2, 2013 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.
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