I have to take back what I wrote a few weeks ago about not liking Young Adult fiction. This book was wonderful and I loved it; I have already put all of Rowell’s other books on hold at the library. This book was a wonderful blend of the best parts of YA — the whip smart nerdy-hip characters like those found in John Green books; the contemporary, zingy dialogue from shows like Gilmore Girls; added into the mix are the delightfully recognizable elements of fan worship for fantasy book series (oh so familiar to those of us who have devoted many years to Harry Potter.) Overall, a great canvas for a story about the challenges of navigating college.
In Fangirl, we follow identical twins Cath and Wren Avery from their hometown of Omaha, Nebraska to their (separate) dorm rooms as they start their first year of college at University of Nebraska, Lincoln. They are typical YA twins, dating all the way back to Sweet Valley Twins: Wren is popular, outgoing, well-liked while Cath is quiet, shy, and scared. Extroverted Wren is determined to distance herself from her youth and her sister in one fell swoop, diving heedlessly into college. Meanwhile, Cath is happy with who she already is and terrified of the strangeness and complexity of her new life. She continues to buries herself in her greatest passion: her devoted worship of the Simon Snow* fantasy books and her writing of Snow fanfiction for her online followers.
It is, therefore, easily predictable when Wren thrives at college while Cath shrinks. An introvert adrift in a world best suited for extroverts, far from the comfortingly small ponds of high school and home; Cath feels miserable and out of step. She skips parties, resists making friends, and struggles in silence as she tries to make this new life work. Her only lifelines are the Simon Snow books and her stories about them. The most difficult part for Cath is that she must try to adapt to this scary, strange new life without her best friend and other half, her twin, to keep her steady.
Written with wonderful characters and peppered with easily relatable cultural references, the story is easy to love and hard to put down. It takes no time at all for readers to start rooting for Cath to excel in college and for us to fall just as in love with Simon Snow as Cath. Sweet, funny, and warm with just the right balance of drama and calm introspection, Fangirl is a total win-win. Read it!
*Although Simon Snow books were completely fictional when Fangirl came out, Rowell has brought the stories partially to life in her book Carry On (2015).