Cath is a fangirl. A fangirl belongs in a fandom, where fangirls and fanboys feel normal amidst their obsessive chaos. They drown themselves in fan-art, theories, fan-videos, updates, and of course; fanfiction, which Cath is fairly familiar with. Cath She’s a world-wide known fanfiction author for the Simon Snow series. However, she doesn’t do so well in the real world. Her dad is frail and sensitive, her mom abandoned her family at a young age, and Wren, her glorified twin, is practically Cath’s only friend. At college, Cath was forced to meet new people and develop more as Wren branched out and left Cath for fresh experiences.
It’s quite clear from the beginning that Cath is socially anxious; she’d rather live on protein bars in her room than even step into the dining hall. This plays a significant role in the rising action and climax of this story; as college progresses, so does her mental health and academic status. While this social anxiety is a huge contributor to the story’s plot, to me it feels as though Cath was only made a “fangirl” as an excuse for her social awkwardness, which I’m not exactly for.
You see, fangirls are often seen as squealing, uncontrollable messes that have lost almost all touch with reality. They’re always furiously typing away, their noses deep in a book, or crying hysterically in a corner. As an actual fangirl myself, I feel like this book only perpetuates that stereotype. While there is a partial truth to the stereotype, fangirls/fanboys should not be portrayed with such little depth.
Although she’d rather be left alone, Cath’s roommate Reagan is constantly bringing over her boyfriend, Levi. Cath already finds it difficult enough to write fanfiction in a new environment—now add unfamiliar people and it’s on the edge of unbearable. For the first couple of chapters, it seems as if Cath would never escape this awkward relationship between her roommate, but after Reagan finds her stash of protein bars and forces Cath down to the dining hall, some sort of friendship begins to blossom.
The only thing Cath finds enjoyable about college so far is her fiction writing classes, which is relatively easy for her considering the amount of fanfiction she’s written and the number of readers it has.
“’Working on your final project?’ He slipped into the chair beside her and tried to open the computer. She laid her arm on top of it. ‘Have you settled in a direction yet?’ he asked. ‘Yep,’ Cath said. ‘Lots of them.’ He frowned for a second, then shook his head. ‘I’m not worried about you. You can write ten thousand words in your sleep.’ She practically could. She’d written ten thousand words of Carry On in one night before. “ (Rowell, 208)
I may be an amateur when it comes to writing fanfiction, but I know it’s definitely not something that just spills out of your head endlessly. You’ll pound your head on the table in frustration, you’ll have to search up and fact-check the most ridiculous of things, and you might spend hours writing a couple of sentences. To be able to write 10,000 words in one night, to update chapters daily, to write without stopping— it’s all way too unrealistic. As far as I’m concerned, most fanfiction authors upload new chapters weekly, if not less. Keep in mind that Cath is still balancing this fanfiction writing with maintaining academics and worrying about her family.
There’s a lot more to being a fangirl than just writing fanfiction. You totally immerse yourself in the world of whatever you’re obsessing over. This includes hours on end spent on Tumblr, sleep lost from reading cute headcanons, and obsessive fangirl thoughts completely dominating your work ethic during everyday activities.
To be completely honest, Rainbow Rowell clearly has never fangirled over anything. You don’t just write fanfiction, post it, and look at your feedback. Frankly, if something means enough to you to spend 2 years writing a fanfic about it, I think Cath would spend a bit more time thinking about Simon Snow than occasionally finding the time to write about it.
One thing Rainbow Rowell did do well in Fangirl was the depiction of college life and teenage mental health. A lot of the feelings Cath felt are actual thoughts that I know myself and many other students run through on a daily basis. “No,” Cath said, “Seriously. Look at you. You’ve got your shit together, you’re not scared of anything. I’m scared of everything. And I’m crazy. Like maybe you think I’m a little crazy, but I only ever let people see the tip of my crazy iceberg. Underneath this veneer of slightly crazy and socially inept, I’m a complete disaster.” (324) Rowell also does a good job of showing internal struggles, and we can see this through Wren’s drinking problems, which develops throughout the book. Even the glorified twin; the beautiful one, the elegant one, the productive one, could struggle in such a way no one would expect.
A series of unfortunate and/or confusing incidents happen throughout the story, each one leaving Cath more and more distraught as she struggles to deal with them.
The first major incident was when Levi came to visit Cath, and she ended up reading The Outsiders to him until they fell asleep with a lazy kiss. This led Cath to realize that she’d fallen for Levi. The fandom obsessed, writing 24/7 geek was suddenly burdened with an infatuation she didn’t want. This was a huge change for Cath. Her previous relationship was hardly a relationship— they never called, they never went on dates; they didn’t even like each other.
“Then she set out a picture from prom, of her and Abel. Cath was wearing a shimmering green dress, and Abel had a matching cummerbund. It was a good picture of Cath, even though her face looked naked and flat without her glasses. And it was a good picture of Abel, even though he looked bored. He always looked kind of bored.” (10) Abel, her previous boyfriend, is predictable, which is what Cath liked. When she realized she had a genuine interest in Levi, it was a feeling Cath was uncomfortable with.
At this point, she’s struggling with keeping up her interest in fiction writing after her teacher rejected an incredible piece of fanfiction she submitted as an assignment. She claims that fanfiction was not true fiction, regardless of the actual quality of the writing. This was a setback for Cath, since fanfiction was all she knew. Meanwhile, her father is battling bipolar disorder while still trying to take care of his family. He was relocated to a mental hospital after an outburst, and Wren had developed a drinking problem.
None of this makes Cath trying to finish her fanfic, maintaining her grades, taking care of both herself and her family, and dealing with her feelings for Levi any easier.
All this tension building up; the mental health, the family issues, the academic struggle— it leads to what I’d call the climax of Fangirl, which is Cath’s character development, where Cath eventually learns to healthily deal with her problems. She finds closure to her mother leaving the family. She discovers that she’s made some very loyal friends since college started. She accepts her feelings for Levi. She finally finishes Carry On, Simon. Eventually, everything works out. Cath ends up in a healthy relationship with Levi and manages to leave behind the fictional world for good. (Which actually never happens in reality—once you join a fandom you can only fall deeper. There’s no climbing out.)