St. Martin's Press, 2013
Cath is a fanfic writer beginning her freshman year of college. She's absolutely terrified to be away from home for the first time, especially after her twin sister and best friend, Wren, refuses be her roommate, sticking her with a stranger, Reagan, and Reagan’s perennial hanger-on, Levi. The only place Cath feels at home is in the world of her favorite author, Gemma T. Leslie, spinning new stories for her pre-made characters. She’s not sure she’ll ever be ready to create new characters out of her own deeply private thoughts, let alone open herself up to the uncertainty of feeling something for someone new who doesn’t live inside her head.
Levi can be condescending in ways I found slightly too easily brushed off at points, and the excerpts of Cath’s fanfic can run a bit longer than they need to be in order to complement her story and give insight into her mind, yet not quite long enough to have the chance to suck in the reader in their own right. The book also seems to run out of pages just before the story ends, something I can appreciate in an intentionally ambiguous ending, like Eleanor & Park, but in a story this wholeheartedly hopeful, I could have gone for a bit more closure.
Fangirl might be the most stunningly accurate depiction of social anxiety I’ve ever encountered in any medium. Cath’s mental patterns, defense mechanisms, and fear of unfamiliar people and situations are presented in a level of vivid yet unembellished detail that anyone who struggles with social anxiety -- or who has ever struggled to understand someone who struggles with social anxiety -- should read.
Cath’s relationship with her father is a major highlight, brimming with mutual love, respect, and support, complicated by the fear that Cath may be inheriting her father’s mental health challenges along with his intensity and wit.
The subjects of fiction writing and fan culture are handled with great care as well, presenting both defenses and criticisms of the concept of fanfiction while discussing the great and worthy challenges of originality. The irreplaceable necessity of connecting with other thinking, feeling people outside the safety of fictional fantasy is a major theme of Cath’s story, yet it coexists harmoniously with a celebration of the positive power of fiction, to inspire, communicate, and even bring people together.
And of course, every one of the many themes Fangirl touches on, from family to first love to creativity to learning styles and the unpredictable uniqueness of each human mind, can be found woven through poignant yet laugh-out-loud blocks of sparklingly quotable dialogue.
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