Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl tells the story of Cath and Wren, identical twin sisters who, until college, have shared everything together. Wren chooses the stereotypical college experience – parties, boys, and dancing – whereas Cath sees herself more as “the kind of girl who fantasizes about being trapped in a library overnight”.
While her twin sister is out enjoying life on campus, Cath’s social anxiety has her unable to leave her dorm, instead writing fanfiction of a popular book series reminiscent of Harry Potter which Wren claims to have outgrown. Eventually, encouraged by her roommate Reagan and her friend Levi, Cath begins to find her feet at school and begins publishing her original work in the school’s literary magazine and eventually wins the Underclassmen Prize for one of her short stories.
I found the characters to be realistic, where Rowell draws directly on her own experiences of fan culture for Cath in particular. The novel focuses greatly on the relationship between the two sisters and the impact that the new situations that they find themselves in impacts them. Cath tends to prioritize her family over her other commitments, going home when their Dad has a psychotic break eventhough her final papers are looming, and staying in the hospital when Wren is taken in for alcohol poisoning. She constantly berates herself in comparison to Wren, although eventually comes to realize towards the end of the novel that their difference does not make one sister “better” than the other.
I feel like the novel is particularly relevant to a young adult audience today, where they would be more likely to empathise with Cath’s strong attachment to fandom culture and appreciate the novel’s coming-of-age aspect. It shows Cath’s progression throughout her time in college from an introverted writer who can’t even eat at the dining hall with everyone else to a more self-assured person as she discovers through Reagan and Levi that the college experience does not necessarily have to be spent being out every night, and that she can still have a life outside of the world of Simon Snow and the fanfiction she writes.
If you liked this, you might enjoy
- My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece – Annabel Pitcher
- I Capture the Castle – Dodie Smith