Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013. Currently Available.
Age Level & Genre: Contemporary YA Realistic Fiction
Face Value: I love it! Rowell’s covers are illustrated in a beautiful, simple style. They look quirky and charming, which I would say is a dead-on depiction of her writing style. I find this cover style extremely attractive and always want to buy copies of Rowell’s books, even if I already own them. I hope that we see more of this kind of cover in YA.
Does it break the slate? Yes, it really does. Cath is my very favorite girl character of 2013. Cath is often paralyzed with fear in social situations, yet she has the strength to keep her fragile family together through some really tough times. She is also a talented writer. Her ability to express herself with words is a key part of her personality, and the cornerstone of this story. I love a female writer as a main character because it shows how women can use the power of written words to change the world.
Who would we give it to? Mandatory reading for incoming college freshman! This is the story of Cath’s freshman year and both she and her twin sister Wren have some major struggles. I went through some of the same awful feelings my freshman year of college, but I honestly thought I was the only one who felt that way. Reading this book would have made me feel so much better.
Review: I am so late to the Fangirl party. I finished this book after compiling my best-of-the-year list, otherwise this totally would have been on it! I am embarrassed to say that it sat on my to-read pile for so long, because it is an extraordinary book.
This book hit me like a laser to the heart. There are so many things I could say to compliment this book, and other reviewers have already said many of those same things. Instead, I am focusing on a few distinct aspects of this book that make it so unique. The first, and one of the most meaningful, was the book’s compassionate portrayal of a character with mental illness.
Cath and Wren are twins who were raised primarily by their father. Their mother left them when they were eight years old. Although their father is an admirable and loving parent, he struggles with mental illness. And he is never once made to seem deviant or lacking in parental skills because of his illness. He is hospitalized, and Cath feels that she needs to look out for him, but her father’s illness is part of the way the family operates and they are stronger because of it.
The book also depicts a loving and compassionate family response to problematic alcohol consumption. Cath’s twin sister Wren fully indulges in her access to alcohol during her freshman year, often drinking to the point of not remembering her evening. Her binge drinking gets out of control and she lands in the hospital with alcohol poisoning. Cath and her father respond in different ways to Wren’s choices, and I found both to be positive examples. Cath sees this as an opportunity to reconnect with her sister and is kind and warm. Their father, however, sets an ultimatum: Wren has to stop drinking, see a counselor, and start going to AA meetings if she wants to continue to live away from home. Binge drinking is not to be taken lightly, and once again this book dealt with an “issue” in a way that didn’t feel like an after-school special.
Now let’s talk about the romance. THIS BOOK IS SUPER ROMANTIC. There’s not even anything very descriptive in here, yet it was making me blush while reading because the chemistry between Cath and her boyfriend Levi was unbelievable. My rural roots must be showing because I adored Levi. He’s a farm boy majoring in ranch management and probably the most gentlemanly YA love interest I can think of. He is patient and kind with Cath, even though her personal challenges make it difficult for her to be a great partner. Their relationship gets an A+ for being consensual. Cath and Levi have open and honest conversations about how far they are willing to go physically. Levi doesn’t make sudden moves or assume what Cath does/doesn’t want to do. Does this kill the heat in their relationship? Absolutely not. I love reading that type of relationship modeled in YA fiction.
Another reason why I love Levi: He was in 4-H. This is the first mention of 4-H I have seen in my reading of YA fiction and I was so excited about it that I jumped up and down around the room and read the passage out loud to my husband. I grew up in 4-H and I work for the organization now as a youth development educator. The organization is frequently misrepresented in popular culture. Yet in Fangirl, the name of the organization is spelled correctly (most people forget the hyphen) and Levi recalls what the Hs represent and talks about how it was meaningful in his childhood. He even recites the 4-H pledge. And Cath finds all of this totally attractive. If more people thought that being a 4-H alum was an attractive quality in a future romantic partner, my job would be so much easier. Thank you Rainbow Rowell for making 4-H look awesome!
Where this book truly breaks the slate is in the way that Cath forms her identity as an author. As the title implies, she is a major fangirl and writes Simon Snow (read: Harry Potter) fanfiction. Cath is a brilliant writer, but she feels most comfortable working with characters and settings created by another author. Throughout Fangirl, Cath struggles to find a way to create her own fictional world. When she finally finds her own characters, it feels like winning a marathon. Cath’s persistence in finding her own voice is so rewarding and so beautiful. When you add in the romance and familial love, this book has umpteen winning qualities. Don’t postpone it any longer than I did. Read Fangirl as soon as possible.
Reviewed from a library copy.