Fangirl is Three Stories in One (and They All Have Strong Female Characters!)

Fangirl © Rainbow Rowell/Pan Macmillan
Fangirl © Rainbow Rowell/Pan Macmillan

For me, nothing beats the times when I’m reading a book and I really, truly, identify with a character. It’s a fairly rare occurrence but when it does happen the bond you form with this fictional person can be intense. Rachel Rowell’s latest young adult novel, Fangirl, had that effect on me.

Fangirl is the story of Cath, an 18-year-old freshman starting her college life at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Cath is a geek and very comfortable in that role. She is obsessed, completely so, by the fictional world of Simon Snow, a book series that bares more than a passing resemblance to the Harry Potter series. Cath is a popular fan fiction author with readers numbering in the tens of thousands, but now she has to find a way to balance completing her epic fanfic Carry On Simon with completing her first year of college. Of course her path isn’t easy. Numerous challenges are thrown in her way including boys, roommates, her manic-depressive dad, and her twin sister Wren who is rapidly going off the rails–and that’s before we get to her actual classes.

Fangirl could easily become something of a cliche, but the dual worlds Rainbow Rowell creates–Cath’s real world and Simon Snow’s World of Mages–are so believable and detailed that you end up falling right in. In between each chapter from Cath’s life, Rainbow throws in snippets from the World of Mages. There are passages from the seven-book canon series (the events in Fangirl occur over the months prior to the eighth and final book’s publication) and excerpts from Cath’s fanfics; there’s even a snippet from a Newsweek article about the rise of the Simon Snow fandom. It’s all mixed in so perfectly that I found myself forgetting that the Simon Snow series doesn’t really exist–I wanted to know how his story ended too.

Art, Wren, Cath, Levi, Reagan & Nick © Noelle Stevenson/Pan Macmillan
Art, Wren, Cath, Levi, Reagan, & Nick © Noelle Stevenson/Pan Macmillan

However, the heart of the Fangirl story is Cath. I identified heavily with her in a way that I rarely have with other fictional characters and on more than just the superficial “oh I prefer to stay home writing fanfic rather than going out partying too” level. Cath comes from a troubled home, but, unlike many tragic backstories, hers doesn’t overwhelm her. She has a loving, close-knit family, just one that’s been through the ringer a little. She is thoroughly likeable without being a doormat and I was happy to see her progress through college life without it changing the fundamentals of who she is. This could easily become a lesson about choosing to live in the “real” world rather than hiding in a beloved fictional one; instead it is about finding the right balance between the two.

One final thing I loved about Fangirl was the sheer quantity of female characters present. Not only do we have Cath, a female protagonist, but we also meet her roommate Reagan, sister Wren, mother Laura, Wren’s roommate Courtney, and Professor Piper. This is in contrast to the two main characters who are male with another two lurking on the sidelines. Even in the world of Simon Snow the number of named female characters equals the boys and Simon’s two best friends (his Ron and Hermione if you like) are both female. It’s really refreshing to read something with such a variety of female characters and I was delighted to see that Cath’s idolized fiction writing professor, who is also a published author, was a woman.

Fangirl is an easy read but it is one that will make you want to keep reading. I fell in love, both with Cath and with her beloved World of Mages, and I wanted their stories to keep going. This is the perfect book for any fangirls you know who are heading to college this year; in fact it’s the perfect story for fangirls of any age. Rainbow Rowell has recently signed a contract to publish some graphic novels and casually dropped the suggestion on her website that “a Simon Snow comic would be so much fun to write.” I for one would love to see that come to fruition because I hope we might get to read more from these two universes one day.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

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