I just have to say up front that Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell is the type of story I love to read, and the type of story I want to see more of in YA lit. It’s about a girl who goes to college and has to navigate the new setting, relationships, and teachers she has. She also needs to figure out her old relationships with her family. No super heightened craziness, just regular everyday life.
In fact, it hits on quite a few of the items on my YA reading wishlist:
- mental illness – Cath’s dad has bipolar disorder, and I love the way it’s revealed and the way that it explains so much of Cath’s issues.
- alcoholism – One of the characters gets busted for alcohol poisoning, and the whole discussion about how she isn’t going to stop drinking because “everyone else drinks” is classic alcoholic behavior (the idea that s/he can drink like everybody else).
- nerdy/quirky teens unashamed of their nerdi-/quirkiness – Cath loves Simon Snow, wears her Simon Snow swag, and is just fine talking about Simon Snow. She may not tell everyone that she writes fanfic, but she’s not ashamed of her love or knowledge of the world.
Bonus points for exploring the bullheadishness of students and their lack of awareness when it comes to (a) plagiarism and (b) not following directions. Oh, and female friendship, of course. Oh, and learning disabilities! Also, Cath is so codependent.
Extra bonus points for having a romance in the story and not letting the story become about the boy. Cath’s relationship with the boy is one of the many relationships she navigates, but it doesn’t overshadow or become more important (narratively, I mean) than her relationship with her sister or her father or her other friends.
Also, Rowell’s love affair with redheads continues. There are TWO in this book.
A couple of things that didn’t quite work for me:
1. The story starts out slow because Cath spends the beginning of the book being a mopey hermit. Rowell keeps the narrative from getting too bogged down by showing Cath’s forced interactions with her roommate and classmates. Yay for dialogue.
2. Several times in the story, the characters comment that Cath has online friends, but there’s nothing that shows Cath’s online friends are her actual friends. There’s this undercurrent that those friends don’t count. Cath is a BNF (big name fan), so she would be interacting with her online friends A LOT. This idea of online fans as being isolated in real life but not online is important, and I wish it had been explored more.
3. I liked the excerpts from the Simon Snow books and fic as framing devices for the chapters. I absolutely HATED that huge chunks of parts of the narrative was Cath reading her fic out loud to someone and what she was reading was transcribed in the book. I am not a big fanfic reader of the shows and books that I actually know and love. To read fanfic about a world that doesn’t actually exist–about characters I had zero investment or interest in–felt extra pointless.
All in all, though, I found Fangirl to be a solid read, and I breezed through it. Loved the characters, loved the relationships.