A young adult novel that actually takes place during college instead of high school? Absolutely! Sign me up, every time. Maybe it is because I personally did not care for high school, but I was so glad to read the book jacket for Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl and see that it started when the Avery twins were entering college. That was enough to convince me that this book was worth reading.
The Situation: Cather and Wren (see what they did there? "Cather" and "Wren." CatheWren. Catherine. Pretty clever.) are twins starting their freshmen year of college in Lincoln, Nebraska. This means leaving behind their manic father to take care of himself while they move into the on-campus dorms. Wren already told her sister she didn't want to be roommates, so this also means the severely introverted and anxiety-prone Cath is on her own, and there is a complete stranger, and the stranger's stuff, and the stranger's boyfriend, in her personal living space. A lot is changing all at once, but something that has remained constant for Cath is her love for Simon Snow (think Harry Potter) and her anticipation of the eighth and final book set to be released at the end of the Spring semester. In between classes and assignments, Cath can keep going back to what she knows and she does best: writing Simon Snow fanfiction for her ever-increasing fanbase. Wren may have deserted her, but she knows how to make sure Simon Snow never will.
The Problem: While Cath may insist that she is perfectly fine staying holed up in her dorm room all semester, writing and living off of protein bars, her roommate Reagan insists that she come up for air once in awhile, and Reagan's boyfriend just won't leave her alone either. Cath can't even enjoy her junior-level fiction writing class in peace when a fellow-student insists they continue writing together after the end of a group assignment. And while her sister Wren is the one person on campus whose presence she actually does crave, it is clear that Wren has moved on to hanging our with her new roommate, Courtney, attending parties, getting drunk, not visiting their dad when he lands in the hospital, and even getting back in touch with the mother who abandoned them all. What if all of the change is just too much for Cath? And what if her love for Simon Snow isn't enough to carry her through it all?
Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult novel set on a college campus during that all-important transitional moment when high school and most of what has been familiar to a person for 18 years is left behind in exchange for the new challenges and experiences that college has to offer. The Avery family are three examples of different ways people cope with hardship and change. Cath and Wren's dad turns absolutely manic and spends a disturbing amount of time and energy on his work. Without the girls around, no one is at the house telling him what to eat, or just to eat in general, and when to go to sleep. Cath is prone to panic attacks and is incredibly anxious when things feel out of control, which is almost always, while Wren seems perfectly capable of going off completely on her own, when in reality she is going down her own path of destruction. As a fairly independent person, I see where Wren is coming from. If she and Cath never separate and just attempt living their own lives, they'll never know whether or not they can, and it is unfair for Cath to expect her sister to hold her hand forever. She also can't stick her head in the sand and decide not to engage in life. On the other hand, Wren can't just completely break free of family and expect everything to just work out. Isn't that what their mom did? Isn't that the pivotal moment in their lives that started all of this to begin with? This book is not just about the freshmen college experience, or just about family, but possibly about growing up and everything that comes with that. Even the whole friendships of convenience issue comes up as both Cath and Wren make friends with people who, just because of the way college life and dorm life works, happen to be in close proximity, and most of the time those friendships don't have any real staying power. The book is also about writing as there is little Cath would rather do than work on her Simon Snow fanfiction. In fact, there is so much about writing in here that it made me want to get back to my writing, and not just blog writing. Cath's passion and commitment are enough to inspire any reader who has the slightest urge to do some writing of their own.
My Verdict: I absolutely adore this book. Again, I was already pretty sold once I knew it took place in college as opposed to high school, but even beyond that, this is a fantastic book. The characters are relateable, and while I wouldn't say that Cath is the most upbeat and cheerful person ever, there definitely isn't the same kind of angst there that is often found in young adult protagonists. Again, the college setting is fantastic, and the entire backdrop of the dorms and the students and the classes and the library and the cafeteria was so well done without getting too bogged down in detail. There is some heavy stuff that happens within the 400+ pages of the novel, but it isn't so heavy to make the novel dark, but it keeps the book from being too light or too fluffy. If I had a complaint it would be about the excerpts that begin each chapter from both the Simon Snow novels and Cath's fanfiction. Just from the little snippets that Rowell gives us, I get the feeling that if I were to read either the Simon Snow books, or even Cath's fanfiction, that I wouldn't care for the Simon Snow novels at all. But trying to really get a good picture of a full-length book from an excerpt is like trying to buy an album off of iTunes based on those 90-second samples they give us (and yet people do it all of the time). Plus, none of it is real, so there is that.
Favorite Moment: When Cath and Wren's father puts his foot down regarding Wren's behavior at college. He is pretty much the most laid back and easy-going father ever, so the fact that he got angry, and I mean really angry, meant that something had to have gone really wrong. He gives Wren two choices, neither of which she likes, but he honestly doesn't care.
Favorite Character: I actually feel like I have a few choices here, which is rare for me, but I think I will go with Cath and Wren's dad. He can be pretty manic, but he has made the best of a less than ideal situation and has managed to get twin daughters off to college and not completely fall apart.
Recommended Reading: I am actually having a hard time coming up with a specific book, so instead I'll recommend some authors: Sarah Dessen always seems like a good choice when it come to young adult books, as well as Sarah Ockler. John Green has written some of my favorite young adult novels, and I could never forget Ruta Sepetys and her incredible historical fiction geared towards teens.