Or ‘That Time Rainbow Rowell Actually Wrote a Book About My College Experience’
I don’t have a twin sister, my father isn’t manic-depressive, and my mother didn’t leave me when I was eight, but the main character in Rainbow Rowell’s FANGIRL was so familiar that after reading late into the night, I reached for my Kindle as soon as I woke up in the morning to finish reliving my first year of college through Cath Avery.
There aren’t a lot of books out there about my college experience. None that come to mind, actually. I graduated high school the same weekend as the release of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and after a fandom-fueled summer, went off to the small, private, all-female Mills College where I planned to major in English with a creative writing emphasis. I was a virginal, teetotal, bibliophile whose life was mainly online. (Oh, how times have changed.) Unlike Cath, I didn’t have a roommate who forced me outside my comfort zone, though the girl who lived across the hall did her best.
Most books set in college tell a different story – a story of parties, of freedom, loosened inhibitions and first tattoos. But I didn’t have that, and so when I started reading about a freshman girl who wrote slash fan fiction and lived off of food supplies she hoarded in her room so she didn’t have to go to the dining hall, it was like I’d found a kindred spirit. Or that I’d somehow opened a door to the past.
There are certainly plenty of tales these days of the socially awkward, but, in fact, what I most appreciate about Cath is that she’s not awkward so much as underdeveloped, sheltered, and naive, lost in her own head most of the time. And as is appropriate for a coming-of-age novel, she grows up a little. I can certainly relate.
Because of that relatability, it’s almost impossible to distance myself from the story long enough to comment on the quality of the book as a whole, but I found the characters charming, real, clueless in the way only college students can be, and very human. If I found the love story a little too good to be true, that’s just the jealousy talking. And let’s just say, if you ever wrote fan fic – especially for Harry Potter – you’re going to fall in love with FANGIRL.