A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Fangirl is the second young adult novel by New York Times bestselling author Rainbow Rowell. Set in a present Nebraska college (instead of an '80s Nebraska high school like Eleanor & Park), Fangirl follows an 18-year-old introvert's first year away at university. A hermit who only leaves the room for class, protagonist Cath is secretly a prodigious fanfiction writer in the Simon Snow fandom (think Harry Potter). While Cath is a virgin who doesn't drink or even really curse, other characters use strong language pretty regularly ("f--k," "a--hole," "douche," "s--t," etc.) and discuss their sexual experience. The actual sexual content is fairly tame for a college-set story: limited to kissing and making out partially undressed in bed. Through Cath's introversion and Levi's dyslexia, the book also explores social anxiety and learning disabilities, as well as the importance of taking risks, academically and personally.
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What's the story?
Cath is a freshman in college with a lot of social anxiety and only two things that make her feel completely at home: her outgoing identical twin sister Wren (who chose to live in another dorm) and her love of the fantasy book series Simon Snow (an obvious tribute to Harry Potter). The ultimate FANGIRL, Cath writes popular fanfiction for the Simon Snow fandom. Stuck with Reagan, a surly, opinonated upperclassman roommate with no sense of boundaries, Cath barely leaves her dorm room. Despite her desire to stay away from people, Cath must deal with the near constant presence of Reagan's smiley, friendly, chatty boyfriend, Levi -- who begins to draw her out of her shell, and even more frightening, charm his way into her heart.
Is it any good?
Fangirl isn't just a charming love story about people, it's also a love story about fiction and the power of books and fandoms. Rowell, whose first book Attachments was a "chick lit" romantic comedy, burst onto the YA scene early in 2013 with the critically acclaimed misfit romance Eleanor & Park. She's apparently cranking out the quality realistic fiction with her follow-up out a scant eight months later. Fangirl shares a few similarities with E&P: the Nebraska setting, an intelligent, introverted girl who doesn't say much, and a guy who's almost too good to be true.
Every chapter begins with excerpts from not only Cath's fanfiction but also the "canon" of the Potter-like Simon Snow books. If you pay even cursory attention to the book-within-a-book, it's obvious that Simon, Baz, and Gemma T. Leslie are stand-ins for Harry, Draco, and author J.K. Rowling. Through her writing, Cath can express things she can't in real life, where she's extremely reclusive and socially inept. The only person besides Cath's party-girl sister, Wren, who can see the real her is Levi -- the kind of swoon-worthy guy that's sure to become any reader's literary crush. Cath and Levi have a host of issues, but their romance, slow and steady and startlingly real, will make anyone a believer in how books and love go hand in hand.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the theme of literacy, writing, and loving books is a big part of the story. How is Cath different from "Magicath"? How does reading aloud to Levi become a romantic, intimate gesture?
What did you think of the Simon Snow excerpts? Did you immediately think of Harry Potter? Which did you prefer, the "canon" Simon Snow excerpts or Cath and Wren's fanfics?
Would you or have you already written fanfiction? Cath thinks it's original, even if you're "borrowing" characters and settings. Do you agree with her or her creative writing professor, who considers it accepted plagiarism?
Do you think Cath's fear of intimacy is believable? What aspects of Cath and Levi's relationship seem authentic? Why should a person be willing to put sex "off the table" for the person they're dating?
- Author: Rainbow Rowell
- Genre: Contemporary Fiction
- Topics: Book Characters, Brothers and Sisters
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: St. Martin's Press
- Publication date: September 10, 2013
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 17
- Number of pages: 433
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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