When I read Young Adult fiction, I’m expecting one of two things: A fun, flimsy, romantic story about a young woman being pursued by 2 equally dreamy young men while she struggles to understand her true place in the world. Or a preachy narrative full of life-lessons, big impact moments, and tough decisions that end up being more literary, but let’s face it, more boring.
Now I know I’m being unfair to the genre. But what I really came here to say was the Fangirl is an outstanding contribution to that genre. It combines the big moments with the excitement of being pursued by dreamy men. It has valuable insights into the emotions and mindset of teens and 20-something adults. It’s the type of book that makes fans truly fanatical, but has enough substance and poignancy to keep it honest and real. Obviously I’m a fan of Fangirl.
We follow the story of Cath, a young woman who is leaving home for her first year of college. Raised by a struggling father, Cath and her twin Wren are consumed by the story of Simon Snow, a series of fictional novels that are an obvious reference to Harry Potter, including the international frenzy that those books inspired.
As truly devoted fans, Cath and Wren write fan-fiction and post their Simon stories online for the world to see. They have thousands of followers, and for Cath, writing Simon Snow fan-fiction is a lifestyle she adores and won’t consider giving up. When they leave for college, Wren decides she wants to be more independent and finds a new roommate, leaving Cath struggling to find her way alone.
The incorporation of excerpts from both the “original” Simon Snow books and Cath’s fan-fiction was a spot-on choice for Rowell. The world of fan-fiction can be overwhelming, and it’s the sort of online community that can be difficult to understand if you’re not in it. She manages to include debates on the legality of fan-fiction, why people write it, and why some people just cannot let go of fictional worlds.
For anyone who has really loved a book, movie or television show, this level of devotion is easy to understand. I’ve never had the urge to write fan-fiction, but I am certainly a fanatic when it comes to some things. It’s a high compliment for an author/writer/director to have people who feel so passionately about their work that they never want to leave it. But Rowell also deals with the real-world implications of immersing yourself so thoroughly in a world that isn’t our own. Cath often retreats to the comfort of Simon Snow when the challenges of doing new things and meeting new people overwhelm her, and as her first year of college progresses, we get to see how this obsession affects her relationships with other people, often in a humorous, raw way.
Rainbow Rowell may just be my favourite YA author. Eleanor and Park was an outstanding read, but in a very different way than Fangirl, and I really appreciate an author who can continue to produce high-quality work without relying heavily on their previous accomplishments. She has a gift when it comes to writing about teens and young adults that many authors lack. Her next book, Landline, is set for a 2014 publication, and I can’t wait!