7 Reasons Why I Love Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl

Image property of Rainbow Rowell, Noelle Stevenson, and St. Martin's Pres

Image property of Rainbow Rowell, Noelle Stevenson, and St. Martin’s Pres

SPOILER ALERT: Reveals plot points from the novel

In the second half of 2013, I became aware of Rainbow Rowell and her new young adult novel, Fangirl. At the time, I was following Gingerhaze (aka Noelle Stevenson) on Tumblr, and she did the cover art for it. I’ve never considered myself a fangirl and certainly never lost my shit over Harry Potter (which obviously inspired the book), so I wasn’t immediately interested in it. I’ve also encountered my fair share of fans, many of whom can be shortsighted and obstinate in their defense of their favs – sometimes to the point of violence. Still, I wanted to support Gingerhaze, and I thought it might be a fun, quick read. Just shy of two years later, I now own a hardback copy of it and have just finished reading it for the third time. I’ve also read all of Rainbow Rowell’s other books and am seriously considering reading Carry On, which is essentially the Harry Potter-esque story from Fangirl and (until very recently) my least favorite part of the book.

Fangirl means so much to me and inspires me to be a better person, girlfriend, and writer. It immediately cheers me up and picks me up when I’m feeling down and reminds me to be both a strong and kind person, so, in honor of it, here are 7 Reasons Why I Love Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl.

  1. The well-written crippling anxiety of being in a new place with new people. While most people would think I’m a confident person, I’ve never faired well in new places surrounded by new people. When I went to college, I spent the first week with severe stomach pains and the inability to be around my roommate and her new boyfriend. If they were up late talking, I’d sit in the hallway reading and trying to keep it together. I withdrew a lot, and it took a great amount of effort to pull myself back out, so Cath’s (the main character, our eponymous fangirl) first semester anxiety resonated with me, both reminding me what it felt like and how far I’d come.
  2. Reagan is my favorite character. Reagan is Cath’s roommate and is described as, “She did everything so forcefully. She swung their door open; she slammed it shut. She was bigger than Cath, a little taller and a lot more buxom (seriously, buxom). She just seemed bigger. On the inside too,” and “Even though she was bigger than most girls – big hips, big chest, wide shoulders – she carried herself like she was exactly the size everyone else wanted to be. And everyone else went along with it.” She’s confident, fearless, and direct, but she’s also a really good person, confronting Cath about her anxiety early on and basically forcing her out of her room. She’s someone that Cath can be herself with and someone she never has to be nervous around. Their first two interactions in chapter four always make me smile because it’s obvious how much Reagan cares. I need a Reagan in my life.
  3. Nick, the writing partner. As we will eventually learn [SPOILER ALERT], Nick is not a super nice guy. In fact, he’s basically an asshole, but for the first half of the book he fulfills a fantasy I’ve always had: having a writing partner. Nick and Cath are assigned to write together and do so in the library, literally pulling a notebook back and forth between them. Afterwards, they hang out once or twice a week to repeat the process, even though they don’t have an assignment. When I first read about that, I was filled with envy. As most writers know, writing can be lonely. You usually have to carve out a niche for yourself away from everyone and sit by yourself as you hear your roommates and family having fun together. I’ve never collaborated with someone on writing, sat write next to them as we created something together. I wanted that. So bad. And now I have a template for what it could be like and inspiration to try to achieve it.
  4. Professor Piper’s writing advice. Professor Piper is my least favorite character in this book. She is showy and pretentious, often doing things like posing dramatically at windows before giving her warnings and saying things like “There’s nothing more profound than creating something out of nothing… Think about it, Cath. That’s what makes a god – or a mother. There’s nothing more intoxicating than creating something from nothing. Creating something from yourself.” Honestly, these are the kind of antics I would expect from a freshman writer, not a tenured professor. However, she is very supportive of her students and is willing to let Cath make up a story, which where we see more of her than just the pretentious writer-teacher. In fact, she really comes alive in chapter 26 when she drops this gem: “I take something that happened to me in 1983, and I make it happen to somebody else in 1943. I pick my life apart that way, try to understand it better by writing straight through it.” While this is similar to the “write what you know” cliché, it offers an invaluable starting point that a lot of advice neglects. It tells you where the starting line is and lets you go from there. It’s actually been very helpful when I’ve encountered a block, and I’m grateful to have it.
  5. Well-written family crises. Whenever most people write or show family crises, they never seem to have first-hand knowledge of one. Everything is always shouting and hyperbole that is either never resolved or always Suddenly, years of hurt feelings and bad relationships end because a side character comes in and shows them the importance of family. That doesn’t happen here. When Cath and Wren (Cath’s twin sister) fight about drifting apart, it’s not even remotely resolved for almost a year – and that’s because both have grown and changed in that time. When Cath’s dad suffers from a manic episode that lands him in the hospital, it’s understood that this is a part of a life-long pattern that will probably happen again in the future – but that that’s okay. When Cath’s distant, shitty mom briefly comes back into the scene, she’s still shown as distant and shitty, resenting that she has to interact with them at all but also acting like a martyr because she’s willing to inconvenience herself slightly. Some people are bad people while others simply make bad choices or react badly. It’s refreshing to see nuanced family relationships that aren’t all about “live and let live.”
  6. Loved ones treating each other well. While Levi (Cath’s love interest) is not my favorite character and I honestly think he says and does many dumb/illogical/patronizing things, I still love the way he treats Cath. He always makes time for her, always seeks her out, fits her into his schedule and fits himself into hers, encourages her, loves whatever she loves, and is always there for her. He’s there for an Emergency Kanye Party when she’s had a bad day. He’s there to pick up her sister at a bar and take Cath out for food to talk. He’s there when her dad is hospitalized, even though they’re pseudo-fighting. He’s there for another Wren emergency, even though he had to drive six hours and almost miss a family event. He wants her to know she’s special and that he loves her and that none of her “problems” – anxiety, introspection, a dramatic family – matter to him. He brings up issues that might be painful like how Wren might not like him or that Cath might be ashamed of him. He is in many ways very sweet, and he reminds me to be sweet to my loved ones.
  7. The love scenes between Levi and Cath. While most of the interactions are actually quite innocent (nothing more than kissing), Rainbow Rowell writes them in a way that is both incredibly sweet and pretty damn erotic. When they first kiss, it’s because, “He nudged his nose against hers, and their mouths fell sleepily together, already soft and open.” “Levi’s kisses were all taking. Like he was drawing something out of her with soft little jabs of his chin.” When they next kiss, they’re constantly talking with each other, telling each other how much they like each other and where. Cath “closed her eyes and kissed him below his chin, behind his jaw, where he was soft and almost chubby, like a baby. He arched his neck, and it was even better than she’d hoped. ‘I like you,’ she said. ‘So much. I like you here.’” The scenes are vivid and life-like, reminding me what it felt like and how I acted when I first began dating my girlfriend. They remind me what’s still there, even when I’m too stressed out to see it.

Rainbow Rowell’s writing is deceptive. Her plots are usually pretty fluffy – falling in love, finding a boyfriend, pitching microwaveable lunch foods – and her writing is straightforward, lacking grandiose descriptions or sweeping abstract assertions. At first, she seems like a guilty pleasure akin to a Harlequin romance, but then you realize just how deep her writing penetrated. You’re smiling and re-reading her books. You’re thinking about the characters and comparing them to people you know. You’re wondering what happened next and drawing fanart. You’re writing more than you have in years, and it’s because she’s showing you what writing is supposed to be. You’re supposed to write the stories you want to see. You’re supposed to write about what interests you. You’re not supposed to be hung up on, “Could this be the next Great American Novel? Will I be remembered for hundreds of years?” You’re just supposed to be telling stories and writing them down so others can enjoy them. And, although that didn’t make the list, that’s ultimately why I love Rainbow Rowell’s writing and Fangirl. She reminded me of how fun writing can be, and that is truly why I read her work.

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