How do you survive your freshman year of college? In Rainbow Rowellâ€™s latest young adult contemporary novel, Fangirl, (St. Martinâ€™s Press, 2013), it tells the heartwarming story of Cath Avery and her struggle during her freshman year. Without her socially outgoing twin sister, Wren, Cath begins as a shy girl too anxious to even ask where the dining hall is. As the story progresses, Cath slowly begins to overcome her shyness and finds her voice through her support of her family, first love, and her dedication to her writing of fanfiction: stories written by the fans involving the characters of their favorite novels.
Coming of age novels are ones that have been written about many of times, but Rowell with her charming, witty prose and style offers a new twist by having the characters be believable and significant to so many out there reading this novel. Paranormal stories have run their course in the young adult world, with the Twilight and Harry Potter craze slowly dwindling, and readers are looking for stories whose protagonists have strong voices, good hooks, and emotional subjects. In Fangirl, a reader gets all three: Cath as a strong, realistic character, the appeals of fangirls and fandoms, and the subject of surviving the freshman year of college.
When reading Fangirl what immediately drew me in was not only the engaging prose and plot but the originality and how lifelike the characters were. As someone who devours every story I read, it was refreshing to finally find a story about characters that did not fit that stereotypical young adult fiction mold. There was no Byronic hero with the mysterious past and brooding looks. There was no snarky female protagonist whose life changes once she discovers a secret or lie about her life. Rowell writes characters that are beautifully flawed and people that you could meet walking down the street. They are the common Joes and Janes, and that was the one thing that had pulled me in from the very beginning. One example of this was when Cath was describing herself to her roommate, Reagan:
â€œâ€¦Iâ€™m scared of everything. And Iâ€™m crazy. Like maybe you think Iâ€™m a little crazy, but I only ever let people see the tip of my crazy iceberg. Underneath this veneer of slightly crazy and socially inept, Iâ€™m a complete disaster.â€
As a freshman on my college campus, I agreed to almost everything that Cath experienced: the awkward shuffling with your roommate as you settle in, anxiety of showing up late to a class, and the panicky feeling that you are completely lost on campus with no friends. I believe thatâ€™s why so many readers connected to this story: because Cathâ€™s story is relevant to theirs. For example, this quote is when Cath enters the collegeâ€™s dining hall for the first time:
â€œIn new situations, all the trickiest rules are the ones nobody bothers to explain to you. (And the ones you canâ€™t google.) Like, where does the line start? What food can you take? Where are you supposed to stand, then where are you supposed to sit? Where do you go when youâ€™re done, why is everyone watching you? Bah.â€
This is something that everyone encounters at some point in their life, whether it is at an unfamiliar cafeteria in the hospital or your campus dining hall.
As someone who reads a lot, I can easily say that this book has touched me in ways that others havenâ€™t because it connected with me on such a personal level. It is one that stays with you long after the story is finished and one that I highly recommend. Cathâ€™s story is encouraging and one that I deeply cherish. Rowell hooks the reader with her character that inspires everyone to get out and live despite believing that the following is true:
â€œTo really be a nerd, [Cathâ€™d] decided, you have to prefer fictional worlds to the real one.â€
-by Samantha Fox