Cather and Wren are identical twins. They’re two very individual people: while Wren is wild and outgoing, Cath is shy, anxious and a homebody, yet they’ve pretty much always gone everywhere and done everything together. Until now. They’re starting university, and Wren has decided it’s her chance to be a person away from being a twin – much to Cath’s consternation Wren has deliberately chosen to live in a different dorm and with a roommate that isn’t Cath.
Left on her own, worrying about her father left at home on his own, and with a strange roommate who doesn’t really speak to her, Cath is too shy even to find out where the dining hall is. She goes to class, meets Wren occasionally for lunch, and then holes up in her room writing fanfiction. Yup, Cath is a Simon Snow fan. A Simon Snow obsessive. Simon Snow being the lead character in an eight-part series of books that at first glance bear a resemblance to Harry Potter, but where the equivalent Ron character is evil. Cath is not only a great fanfic writer, she’s got a fan-base of her own that numbers in the tens of thousands.
As someone whose anxiety levels often hit the roof, I related pretty strongly to Cather, her shyness, and her fear of doing new things. Rainbow Rowell plays this out to the nth degree, though, which at times felt a little too extreme, particularly as the love interest storyline developed with the delicious but incredibly patient Levi. Do boys like him really exist? If so, can one walk into my life please? It didn’t bother me too much though and it didn’t take anything away from the storyline; it may seem unrealistic to someone who doesn’t get bothered by situations like Cath does, but anyone who gets shy and hyper self-conscious around boys or new stuff will know exactly where Cath is coming from. And as the storylines gradually reveal themselves – why Cath is so worried about her dad all the time, and why Wren’s sudden distance cuts so deeply – we begin to understand why Cath is how she is, and the motivation for her Simon Snow obsession, even if inside we’re yelling at her to “just get on with it!”
I loved Cath’s roommate Reagan and I wanted to rage at Cath’s sort-of writing partner for his behavior toward her – especially after the fiction-writing professor gallingly calls Cath’s fanfiction plagiarism. I couldn’t understand how Wren could suddenly cut herself so far out of Cath’s life, and be so mean to her, but with hindsight I can see that perhaps it wasn’t as sudden as it might have felt, that she had to try her own path. Fortunately it’s a path that eventually leads her back to the people who care about her the most. Well, with a little help.
Rowell intersperses the chapters with scenes from Simon Snow books and from Cath’s Simon Snow fiction, and even uses Cath to read aloud one of her stories during the book. I wasn’t completely sure about this approach at first – I was more interested in Cath’s real relationships than the ones she was imagining in her fiction – but the end result is that I kind of feel like Simon Snow actually exists as well. Well, in the sense that Harry Potter actually exists, at least – as in, I’d quite like to go and read the Simon Snow books now please.
All in all, I loved Fangirl. Aside from the great characters and from being completely engaging, it has some brilliant one-liners; if it was a TV show, I’d want to go right back to the beginning and start watching it all over again; it even made me want to go to university again. If I’d known then what I know now, maybe I’d have had a much better experience instead of – ahem – holing myself away watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer re-runs. It’s a lesson for anyone just starting out at university – and it’s a lesson for me, now, too, to not be afraid of grabbing life by the horns. Because few people are really going to care how pink you go when they look at you, and you’re only doing yourself harm by shutting out opportunities. Cath is much happier once she opens herself and her life up to new experiences and new people. Of course, it’s much easier said than done. Step one, though: read Fangirl.