I’ve been eyeing Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell for quite a while now. I know it has gone over very well and has been wildly popular but the various descriptions and reviews all mentioned how it’s about writing fan fiction. Now, I’ve had my fair share of fangirl moments and I love to geek out about books, movies, musicals, and musicians that I love, but I’ve always proceeded with caution when it comes to the stereotypical “fangirl” behavior. This is partly because I’m not, in general, a super emotional person. I don’t think I’d be able to muster a scream even if I were actually in danger. Let’s be real, I’m more likely to cuss like a sailor and bail on the situation than scream, so I don’t think I can scream and/or cry out of a happier emotion. This is all to say that I kept putting off reading Fangirl out of skepticism for an attitude I can’t relate to and this skepticism was unwarranted. I honestly feel a little ashamed of myself because I’ve often preached that the best way to learn about people and ideas that are difficult to relate to is to read a story about them or written by them and I was avoiding doing just that. So, to all the fangirls out there, I apologize for my snobbishness and hope you’ll read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, if you haven’t already.
Fangirl focuses on Cath, who’s just starting college, suffering from some anxiety about it, and is the author of some pretty popular fan fiction. There was a lot about Cath that I could not relate to. I’m lucky enough to not suffer from social anxiety, I love meeting new people and trying things I’ve never done before, and I don’t write fan fiction, but I can relate to getting lost in stories to help myself through tough times. I’ve never written fan fiction, but I can’t even count how many times I’ve fallen asleep dreaming about how I could be a character in a story I just read. What I really loved about this story was not how many of the big character defining traits I related to or didn’t relate to with various characters, it was the many tiny moments that I related to.
In Terry Pratchett’s The Wee Free Men Tiffany Aching has second, third, and fourth thoughts, which are thoughts about the way you think, then thoughts about the way you think about the way you think, and so on and so forth. That’s what felt like was happening in Fangirl. A lot books tell us what the characters are thinking about the situation at hand but very few feature the second, third, and fourth thoughts the characters are having. For instance, Cath was having a conversation with a boy and in the midst of that conversation and thinking about that conversation she wonders whether boys call bangs “bangs” or not. (I’ve asked two customers. One says boys call bangs their “flow” I said flow means something very different for girls. The other customer said they call them bangs. So, poll is still out, basically.) I never truly understood Cath or related to her but her second, third, and fourth thoughts made me really like her and become emotionally invested in her story and life. I’d say as a reader I had a similar relationship with her as she had with her roommate Reagan, who never seemed to understand her, but was cheering for her the whole time (in her own way…Reagan’s a little too badass to cheer but inwardly I’m sure she was). Rainbow Rowell succeeded in making the characters come totally alive. There were points in the story where the characters were annoying or whiny and if there weren’t such fully formed characters I would have given up. As it was, it was like listening to a good friend rant about their day, sure, it’s not the most exciting story but I care about the person and their happiness so I’m invested in how the story turns out.
Ultimately I’m very happy I read this book, I think I was mislead into believing it was about Cath’s fan fiction. Her writing is a huge part of her life but the book is not about that, it’s about her growing as a person and learning how to hold her own in a brand new environment with brand new people. From what I understand Rainbow Rowell’s most recent book, Carry On, is set in the world that Cath is writing fan fiction for and I can’t wait to read it and fall in love with brand new characters that Rainbow Rowell creates.