A Fangirl fan
A dusty bookshelf. A discarded library book. A dreary weather forecast. Ordinarily, these three would have little in common but slight alliteration. In reality, it’s Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. It had been sitting on the shelf in my reading room for more than a year but it hadn’t spoken to me since the day I bought it at the library book sale. Paying 25¢ for a book means that if you hated it or DFNed it you didn’t lose much. It also means that if you liked it as much as I did, you feel like you missed the opportunity to squeal tires in the get-away car!
The price aside, the praise for Elanor & Park printed on the back cover convinced me that this was an author who’s writing I wanted to read. I find it weird that all of the praise for one of her other novels articulates how I feel about Fangirl. I agree with John Green when he says,
“Elanor & Park reminded me not just what it’s like to be young and in love [with a girl], but also what it’s like to be young and in love with a book.”
So, for me, I identified strongly with the main protagonist, Cath, in this novel as she begins university. She’s young, naïve, and has a roommate that is dissimilar to her. She suffers from anxiety that makes it hard for her to socialize, navigate big crowds, and generally put herself out there. Hello, me! Moving to Toronto from a country town with only two stop lights, that hardly anyone has ever heard of, was terrifying. I remember clearly my roommates’ and their friends pushing me to come with them to eat, go to the gym, and go into the city. I chose my college campus in part because it had everything I needed and I’d never have to venture beyond the gates. I, too, made friends and learned to cope, I never did get the super cool, sexy boyfriend until I met Ash. I, like Cath, expected him to realize one day that there is someone out there better and less crazy than me.
Again, Cath was an easy character for me to identify with because she was so “in love with a book”, the Simon Snow series. She has Simon Snow posters and t-shirts and writes fanfiction based on the story. As for me, I have always been obsessed with Anne of Green Gables. I always wanted to dress like her, be a teacher and a writer like her, I tried to be the most Anne-ish I could be. If you want to see memorabilia, you should check out my reading room. Small wonder of wonders, all of the stories I have tried to write over the years had a very AoGG feel about them. In many ways, Fangirl reminded me what being young and in love with a book felt like, but I didn’t expect the waves of nostalgia that hit me while reading this book.
Rowell writes convincing characters that you care about as soon as you start reading which I wasn’t expecting, honestly. I haven’t read much YA, other than what I read to my students and my own children, and I enjoyed it a lot more than I anticipated. I was prepared for wasting my quarter and DFNing this book when I picked it up on Saturday. But Cath, Levi (Reagan’s friend), and Reagan (Cath’s roommate) were relatable and well written. Each character has some pithy lines and some interesting ways of looking at and dealing with life. I wasn’t a huge fan of Wren (Cath’s twin) for most of the story, she was bratty and toxic most of the time. But, her metaphorical “end tables” made me laugh. By the end of the novel, I was prepared, like Cath, to forget and move on with Wren alongside. The family dis/function in this novel was interesting and absolutely necessary for the existence of Cath(er) and Wren. Rowell’s writing does, as Petra Mayer suggests, “swing[s] from profane to profound, but it’s always real and always raw.” Elements of harshness are softened by tenderness, humour, and a proper amount of snark. In many ways, reading this novel feels like watching Gilmore GIrls. You’ve got; the quirky, awkward characters, the literary and pop-culture references, the not so straightforward love story, and the layers of family dynamics. For me, that is a great combo. Fangirl has a new fan.
While I felt that Cath was definitely a kindred spirit, there was much more to enjoy about this novel. The Simon Snow book series, which is quoted often throughout the book, smacks of Harry Potter fanfiction. In my mind, Simon is Harry and Baz is Draco Malfoy. References to Harry Potter and many other famous novels are peppered throughout it’s pages. It may make me sound booknerdy, but I love finding hat tips to other authors and characters in a book because it creates a connection between fictional worlds and my world of books, like the book I am reading is part of a greater collective, not just standing on its own in isolation. Plus, I feel super smart if I get the reference and it makes me feel more a part of the character’s world and helps me see them differently and more clearly.