I loved Rainbow Rowell's book "Eleanor & Park," so when I saw "Fangirl" on the New Fiction shelf at Kaltreider library, I checked it out along with a stack of my daughter's picture books (many of them involving animals in underpants. She's four what do you expect?) and a few memoirs for me. I wanted something fun to read amidst the depressing ice and snow storms that are plaguing my life (and much of the East Coast) right now. Rowell's second YA novel did momentarily transport me from this gray winter, and although I know legions of girls who will adore this novel, I didn't like it as much as "Eleanor & Park."
The story follows Cath, an introverted, Simon Snow ultra-fan, and popular fan fiction writer, as she ventures wearily into her first year of college. Although she is terrified to leave her mentally fragile father, her twin sister, Wren, can't wait for the parties, new friends and new adventures. During Cath's first weeks of college, she only leaves her dorm room for classes, but refuses to even visit the dining halls to eat (and instead nourishes herself from her stash of protein bars). Her sassy roommate, Reagan, decides to make Cath her "project" and helps her to journey out of her shell. As Reagan and Cath become closer, Cath and her sister drift further and further apart.
And, since it is YA, you guessed it . . . there is romance. The romantic interests in this book shift a bit from a boy in Cath's writing class, Nick, to her roommate's ex-boyfriend, Levi. The innocence of the young love almost hurts to read, but it did make me smile.
What didn't make me smile was the interruptions of Cath's fan fiction "Carry On" throughout the book. I know the book is called "Fangirl" which means that the fiction within the fiction won't bother most readers, but I didn't enjoy the gay courtship of the two main characters of the Harry Potter-esque fantasy story that Cath wrote. I actually skipped most of those parts to focus on the developing relationships between Cath and Levi, and Cath's side worries of her father, disappearing and reappearing mother and her sister's avoidance of problems. Those story lines were the true heart of this book, and the fan fiction detracted from those.
Cath, although a bit neurotic and melodramatic, became endearing and lovable as she faced her fears and challenged herself to break from her self-imposed fiction prison. She began living life for real rather than only living to write the fantasy world which was based on a popular fiction world of another author.
Although fan fiction is not my thing, so I can't relate to the devotees of reading alternate story lines of popular series, I know that many people are addicted to fan fiction. I can think of so many of my students who loved the world of Harry Potter so much that all other books were spoiled for them, or during the Twilight craze girls in my classes that fantasized about Robert Pattinson and his pale face and sweeping widow's peak (which, by the way is Levi's trademark that Cath comments on all the time).
To me, Rowell shows her talent as a writer in this book by keeping many story lines afloat, moving between fan fiction writing, writing excerpts of the fantasy book Cath writes her fan fiction about, and giving her characters enough quirkiness and likability that even someone like me who doesn't like fan fiction can still find things to love in this book.
I am already looking forward to another Rainbow Rowell YA novel that explores an unlikely relationship between two multi-faceted people, who face odds due to family issues in their blossoming love, but find a way to make things work. I just hope the next one she writes doesn't include fan fiction of any sort.