Major Simon Snow fan Cath is about to start college without her built-in best friend and twin sister, Wren, as her roommate. She can’t imagine leaving their dad behind nor understand why there’s a boy in her room when she walks in for the first time. She and her new roommate Reagan barely talk and then her Fiction-Writing professor, Piper, asks the class, “Why do we write fiction?” All she can think of is, “to disappear.” (p.23)
Rainbow Rowell nails quirky in Fangirl. From the social awkwardness of Cath and Reagan bonding over Cath having no idea where the dining hall is despite completing a few weeks into the semester to Cath having her finger poised to press dial on her 9-1-1 ready cell phone as she runs as fast as she can back to her dorm room from the library at night, Rowell captures quirky undergrad life in a bottle and releases it into the wild.
Quirkiness is exhibited through new relationships in unique ways. Levi is older, smokes, not a book person, and more experienced, while Cath lives in her version of the Simon and Baz world, is a total book nerd, and hasn’t put sex on the table yet. A stubborn writer can’t stop a relationship from forming, though, and through this unlikely pair, Rowell shows how a girl can lose her best friend and boyfriend, but find a best friend and boyfriend all in one always-charming guy, a first love (Abel really doesn’t count) formed the moment Cath began reading out loud to Levi.
At the same time, dads will be dads. As crazy as things get at home, Cath can still depend on her dad to put his foot down when it comes to Wren’s reckless drinking behavior at school, showing as long as family members are there for each other no matter what, they stay together. For Cath, it’s fanfiction that acts as a thread—she started writing it with Wren, reading it out loud to Levi is how they became attracted to each other and it’s the one thing she cannot bring herself to stop writing, even when Professor Piper says otherwise.
In many ways, Rowell paints another picture of a writer trying to find her voice, but what she does different is make quirky characters stand out. Many introverted writers can relate to Cath’s social anxiety and her struggle of feeling more for someone than is reciprocated. Yet, behind Cath’s introversion is a stubborn girl who refuses to do what is expected of her to fit in, an admirable quality in any person as well as a testament to people liking you the most when you show your authentic self. It takes a lot of strength to figure out who you are and stick to it, but there’s no doubt Cath possesses that strength.
When Levi insists on carrying Cath’s laundry, she knows it too, telling him, “‘I don’t need you to carry things for me. I have two functioning arms.’ ‘That’s not the point,’ he said. ‘What kind of creep would I be if I let my girl carry something heavy while I walked along, swinging my arms?’ Your girl? ‘The kind that respects my wishes,’ she said. ‘And my strength, and my…arms.’” (p. 309)
Outside of the introverted writer world, Cath blossoms away from home, more than she ever would have if she moved back home to take care of her dad as soon as things got rough at school. His encouragement, combined with meeting new people who are unlike her, helps Cath leave her comfort zone, something that would have been hard to do on her own. It is with this writer’s voice Rowell is not only able to tell a story about a love for fanfiction, but one of not giving up when life gets hard, no matter how scary it seems.