Thursday, 16 October 2014

Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell, Fanfiction
18 year old Cath is one half of twins. Stuck together for their whole lives, her sister Wren is her best friend- though she is more outgoing than Cath, more confident, flirtier, more popular and prettier (if that can be said of identical twins) they have always come as a package. When Cath and Wren start college, Cath assumes they will be living together, sharing a room as they always have. Wren drops a bombshell on her sister- they won't be rooming together. Wren wants to meet new people, go out, and have the "Real College Experience". Cath just wants to keep out of the way, get through her classes and write her wildly popular Simon Snow fanfiction from the comfort of her room.

The novel is told from Cath's perspective as she struggles to meet people, struggles to want to meet people really, and struggles to cope with her classes and her confusing, unmanageable skills as an author. She's a brilliant, lovely introvert that any "keeps themselves to themselves" person will not fail to relate to. She's not a random, quirky dream girl, nor a secret, untapped beauty. She's just a normal 18 year old that prefers her own company, worries about her mentally ill dad and experiences quite intense anxiety in social situations. Or changing circumstances. Or anything unfamiliar. Cath knows her anxiety is out of control- she won't even go to the dining hall- won't even look for it, for fear of being in the way, not knowing where to stand, doing it wrong. Her fear of appearing ridiculous dominates her behaviour and she escapes into her online persona, her elaborate and insanely popular stories about Simon Snow, a fictional boy wizard.

Cath is finally forced out of her Wren hangover by her fierce older roommate Raegan and her boyfriend/ex-boyfriend Levi, who become a constant presence in Cath's room and life. Raegan forces her to stop living on peanut butter and cereal bars and makes her go eat in the dining hall. She takes her to parties. Levi walks her home from the library, studies with her and gives her emergency rides into town. Gradually they start to chip away at Cath's loneliness and a real affection develops between the three of them.

I felt like I really understood Cath. Her awkwardness around boys (or humans generally), her assumption that everybody thinks she's weird. Her desire to be on her own with a book or her computer somewhere that she feels accepted. There are so many novels written about beautiful, outgoing hero types- it's about time we had some regular, introvert heroes that prove that it's your qualities as a person- kindness, understanding, patience, that make you important, not your bravery or your glamourous-ness. She represents every person that has ever felt abnormal for shunning company, or having a crap time at university. For every person that worried and fretted through "the best days of their life". Anybody that struggles to do the things that their peers find so easy, like socialising. Everybody that's ever had a passion that others don't understand.

The empathy and the emotion just ooze from the pages. It would be so easy for this book to veer into sickly, twee, fairy-tale romance, geeky-girl-bags-the-guy territory, but the sheer understanding in the author's voice stops that from happening. It's a story told with such fondness and wry humour that the reader can't help but root for Cath (and Levi) all the way. The book covers the awkwardness and the sheer exhilaration of early stage romances- I loved all the little details that Cath observes, her reactions to the minute and the overpowering. The book spends a lot of time thinking about the power of reading and the compulsion of some to write. It's a cathartic, liberating process for Cath, and reading is a shared, revealing experience. My absolute favourite scene was where Cath reads The Outsiders aloud to Levi- it's a book that means a lot to me. I even got goosebumps reading it second-hand through Cath. The idea that the shared experience of reading a powerful book together is the catalyst, the exact moment when two characters begin to fall in love is amazing.

Fangirl deals with so that is relevant to the lives of Young Adults- accepting that relationships change as you get older, the power of forgiveness, the fear of the unknown and the pressure to make new friends. Importantly, it also shows that growing up doesn’t have to mean growing out of the things you love, but it's learning how to develop a sense of balance for the future; that is the true life skill. I absolutely adored this book. Absolutely brilliant and would recommend it to anybody as a warm, funny and emotional coming-of-age story.

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