Fangirl is a 2013 young adult novel written by Rainbow Rowell. Rowell is also known for Eleanor & Park (2012) and Carry On (2015). Fangirl is her second published work. The book focuses on Cath, a college freshman, as she transitions to living on her own for the first time. Cath, who is very introverted, expects to live in a dorm with her twin sister, Wren. But her plan for college changes when Wren decides not to share a dorm with Cath. Instead, Wren wishes to live an independent life away from her sister. Cath has to navigate college on her own. Fangirl is a great example of how many changes happen in the transition to adulthood. It used its characters and plot to make an intriguing and heartwarming story. I gave Fangirl an overall score of 4.2 / 5.
The characterization of most of the characters was great. The main characters all had backstories, dynamic relationships, and major plotlines. Some secondary characters had good development as well. Cath, our protagonist, was well developed. She had a great character arc and she didn’t feel like a character who never grew. She started the story as an introverted young woman and progressed beyond her anxiety. Cath’s behavior and inability to adapt to life at college could make her character unlikable but she grew out of it. She is dynamic. Though she is resistant to change at first, she changes throughout the novel. She learns how to be more social and to rely less on others. She becomes independent. Her character arc is relatable and could serve as an important example for other introverts who're scared of change. She shows audiences that, while change may seem scary at first, being flexible and open to new experiences isn’t so stressful. Cath wasn’t the only character who had a dynamic arc; her sister, Wren, shows the alternative struggles that college brings along. Wren serves as a cautionary tale for young adults with their newfound freedom. College doesn’t work out for everyone, and what may work for one person may not work for another. She goes off the deep end when she goes to college. She spends her time partying instead of studying and finds herself failing classes and losing herself. While Wren serves as a cautionary tale, she also serves as an example for students who’ve made mistakes before. Her mistakes damage her relationships but she isn’t demonized for them. She's portrayed as a dynamic character who is capable of change. The reader has hope for her at the end of the book because she’s given opportunities to change her lifestyle. Wren is a well written, dynamic character because she has dynamic relationships and changes throughout the book. She’s also not one-dimensional. She has stressors and factors that contribute to her downfall. Cath and Wren are good examples of what characters should be, regardless of how important they are to the plot. Not all characters are as well-written as them though. Some secondary characters felt more one-dimensional or stereotypical. Raegan, Cath’s roommate, felt like a mean, goth-girl stereotype sometimes. While she wasn’t a bad character, Raegan could have had more humanity but she felt like a literary device for Cath. I had trouble believing that there was a Raegan beyond being with Cath. She didn’t feel like someone who existed or who had a life beyond the story. Even though Raegan didn’t have exceptional characterization, she was still a good character and a majority of the characters in Fangirl felt real and relatable. For characterization, I gave Fangirl a four out of five.
The plot of Fangirl was very solid. A majority of young adult novels focus on teenagers. Rowell’s choice to focus on college was smart because it would attract older readers who may not be interested in younger protagonists. The plot was also strong because of its relatability. Focusing on the transition to college pulls in readers who’ve been through similar experiences during their college years. Cath and Wren’s relationship in the book makes a good plotline. The issue between the two was interesting because readers got to see how Cath’s changing relationship with her sister affected her characterization and arc through the story. Their contrasting journeys show how different college can be for everyone. It was interesting to see how Wren seemed to easily fit into a college environment while Cath struggled, but the roles were reversed. Cath ended up loving college and grew while she was there. Wren struggled and found that college wasn’t the best fit for her. The romantic aspect of the novel was good but it was the least interesting. Levi was a heartwarming character, but the romantic storyline didn’t seem as urgent when compared to everything else. However, the romance gave readers to see the process of Cath’s change. As Cath and Levi’s relationship flourishes, so does Cath. We see its positive impact on her and her progress in the book. For plot, I gave Fangirl a four out of five.
The setting was essential to the plot and characters in Fangirl . Moving to a new town and being further from her father causes a major conflict for Cath that becomes the primary conflict of the novel. The book couldn’t occur without this change in setting so it’s essential. But my biggest issue with the setting was that it didn’t focus so much on the college town. While it was essential, there wasn’t much development of the college or the places around it. The book could have taken place at any college and the plot wouldn’t have changed. There was nothing particularly special about the setting beyond its effect on Cath. For setting, I gave Fangirl a four out of five.
Overall, the story wasn’t super complex. It didn’t focus on mature topics or groundbreaking issues. The most complex it gets is when it deals with Cath, Wren, and their father’s relationships and how college affects them. Beyond its portrayal of familial issues, the book doesn’t get too deep. For complexity, I gave Fangirl a four out of five.
Fangirl has one of my favorite stylistic choices I’ve ever seen in a book. As a fangirl, Cath writes a popular fanfiction featuring Simon Snow, a fictional wizard student akin to Harry Potter, called Carry On . Cath pours her heart and soul into the fanfiction and it’s an important part of her characterization. Between each chapter of Fangirl , Rowell includes a snippet of Cath’s writing from Carry On . It allows readers to get a look into an important part of Cath’s life while also providing relief between tense chapters. Each snippet also gives readers an idea of how her writing has improved. While most snippets don’t appear chronologically, some are posted close to the events occurring in Fangirl . This is an interesting stylistic choice because it allows readers to see how the plot of the novel affects Cath through her writing. It’s interesting but it also has a point: it helps to characterize Cath indirectly. For style, I gave Fangirl a five out of five.
Overall, I gave Fangirl a 4.2 out of five. It was a strong and interesting read. It made specific choices in the plot and characters that served to attract a wider audience to the young adult novel. Rowell’s characterization of Cath made the book appealing and relatable. However, the book wasn’t perfect. Certain aspects of the plot weren’t as interesting. It didn't get very suspenseful. The plot also wasn’t as complex as other young adult books in the same genre. It had the potential to be more serious but it took a more light-hearted approach. But even though it wasn't very complex, it still handled issues like familial issues with accuracy. Despite its shortcomings, Fangirl was an enjoyable read that is perfect for anyone who’s introverted or has been in a fandom. It may not be perfect for those who want a serious or ground-breaking read. But if you're looking for a cute, fun book, Fangirl would be the perfect pick.