This was such a fun, page-turning book. I gave Emma Eleanor and Park, Rainbow Rowell’s other novel, for Christmas (I still haven’t read E&P but will review it when I do). Then she wanted to read Fangirl and I read it right after her. Like many of the stories enjoyed by Emma and girls her age (13), this one features characters several years older — the story is about Cath and her sister Wren starting their first year of college. Parents of younger teens should be aware, then, that there will be reference to sex and drinking and all those things young adults do at college, which will provide lots of wonderful opportunities for those heart-to-heart talks your kids just love it when you have with them. From that perspective, Cath is a good heroine for the younger reader, since her nerdiness and social anxiety keep her out of the partying lifestyle that her twin sister enthusiastically embraces. (The negative consequences of Wren’s partying are clearly shown, too, which is a nice touch).
This is a funny, sweet coming-of-age story with a lovely little romance, a complicated and believable family situation, and an interesting exploration of a young girl who is smart and capable academically, but often socially overwhelmed by college life. It’s also interesting as a writer’s coming of age story — Cath is a writer of fanfic (she writes online slash fiction about a series called the Simon Snow books, which are a pretty obvious parody of both the Harry Potter and Twilight books, two series that have spawned obsessive online fandoms and plenty of fanfic). When Cath wins a much-coveted spot in a seminar taught by an acclaimed novelist, she discovers that despite her thousands of online followers who wait with bated breath for the next installment of her story, fanfic gets no respect in college. Her teacher pushes her to try writing something different and Cath resists. It’s also interesting that the great, heart-breaking betrayal Cath has to face in this novel involves not sex but writing.
I highly recommend this book for any reader, with the usual caution to parents of younger teen readers that, while there’s nothing remotely graphic in here, there is “adult subject matter” appropriate to the age of the characters.