In Rainbow Rowell’s 2013 YA novel Fangirl, we meet Cath Avery who, along with her twin sister Wren, writes some of the best fanfic on the net. (Fanfiction occurs when someone in the “real world” takes either the story or characters, or both, of a created work – a novel, television series, or set of movies, etc – and creates their own story based on it. Think Harry Potter, the Marvel Universe, Star Wars, Star Trek.)
Cath’s fandom of choice is the Simon Snow novels, about a young British orphan recruited to a wizarding school. (Sound familiar?) Cath’s a good writer, and her knowledge of the books is both absolute and intuitive. Each time she posts a new except of her current Simon Snow story, Carry On, in the FanFixx forums, it gets hundreds of thousands of hits. In the Simon Snow fandom, she’s a bona fide star.
But she’s also a shy, introverted teen-age girl from Omaha, Nebraska, heading off to her first year at college. Fangirl follows Cath on that first year at the state university, where she has to deal with an edgy roommate, classes, being separated from Wren for the first time in her life, worrying about her manic-depressive dad, and boys. But whenever she gets overwhelmed, she still has her Simon Snow world she can disappear into.
Fangirl isn’t the charming lightning rod that Rainbow Rowell’s earlier work, Eleanor & Park is, and it even more solidly falls into the Young Adult category, but it’s still an absolutely compelling read. I love how genuine Ms. Rowell’s characters feel, as though they could walk right off the page and down the hallway of any college dorm on any given day. And it feels as though she doesn’t write her characters as they should be – she writes them as they are. The drama is there, the angst, the fears, the insecurities, but so is the sassiness, the savvy, the sense of self even as everything around them shifts and heaves.
And the construction of the narrative is so well done. We get examples of both Cath’s fanfic and snippets of the source material at the start of each chapter; as the world of Simon Snow permeates Cath’s life, so it does the narrative. Cath is able to be both capable of being a successful college freshman and a totally geeky Simon Snow devotee, both proud of and embarrassed by her success of fanfiction, both older than her years when dealing with her out of control family and coltishly immature when dealing with her own relationships because her inner voice is so well articulated. We hear her, and understand, and relate – even those of us whose college years are way behind us.
It’s no wonder that Fangirl has resonated so deeply with a large swath of kids who relate to both Cath’s struggles and her life in her chosen fandom. And it’s a pretty good bet that it will also resonate with anyone who remembers what it is like to move out of their safety zone, into the wide world beyond, regardless of how long ago that might have occurred. It sure did with me.