Ever since I learned how to read in kindergarten, I’ve loved books. It was Harry Potter that first sparked that love, and ever since then, novels have been my escape. Rowling, Riordan, Lewis, and Snicket- I loved them all.
However, it wasn’t until I was fourteen that I read a book that made me feel understood in a way that no other book ever had: Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell. The New York Journal of Books describes it as a “warm-hearted nerd power ballad,” which is exactly what it is. The story follows eighteen-year-old Cath Avery as she heads off to college with her twin sister, Wren. She’s anxious and well aware of it, and when her sister starts acting distant, she doesn’t know what to do with herself. She’s afraid of everything new about college: the people, the routines, the unspoken social rules. She also struggles with family issues: a mildly unstable father she left behind, a party-girl twin who seems intent on drinking herself into a coma, and an absentee mother who decides to make a reappearance.
She copes in one major way: by reading her favorite book and immersing herself in writing fanfiction.
As someone who loves to write, I saw a lot of myself in Cath. I wrote fanfiction in middle school, and I definitely understood her anxiety. Cath’s fears are palpable in this story- and painfully relatable for anyone who struggles with anxiety. Rainbow Rowell truly understands and represents what it’s like to live with the condition, from Cath eating cereal bars in her room to avoid the dining hall, to attempting to navigate boys and crushes. However, she never feels one-dimensional. She’s smart, funny, and a little prickly, and despite her anxiety, she never lets herself be treated poorly. Her development as a writer over the course of the book was beautiful, as she learns to let go of fanfiction and write her own stories.
As someone who doesn’t usually care for romance, I must say, the romance in this story was great. It wasn’t rushed and the characters were well matched. Unlike many other stories, the male love interest didn’t have god-like good looks. They don’t fall for each other’s looks; rather, they have an appreciation for each other’s minds and personalities, which was refreshing. It also never takes over the story. The main focus is always Cath’s development and her family.
Whether you struggle with anxiety or just really enjoy fanfiction, this book is incredible. Rowell did a beautiful job of showing what living with anxiety is actually like. In my opinion, this book is long overdue.