Pre-Big Bang Theory, pre- the real boom of the superhero movie withIron Man and The Dark Knight, being a nerd sucked. (I’m talking about 2004, here.) Even if you were into something that was socially acceptable like Harry Potter, if you admitted that you cosplayed the characters at premieres/book releases, or drew fanart or wrote fanfic, you got a Look. Not even if you admitted to being into slash or incest fic or other such fic/art, explaining the concept of why you would write/draw/create fandom things was and still kind of is considered to be the fringes of fandom. (Well, aside from the recent P2P boom, but even then, not a lot of people realize that books like Fifty Shades or Beautiful Bastard weren’t originally meant to have original characters. I’ve gotten that stare when I tell people “So you know Ana and Christian are supposed to be Bella and Edward, right?” and then have to explain what fanfic is.) There’s a reason why I really related a lot to this book. Excuse my anecdotal tangent, but I had a handful of roommates who gave me varying amounts of crap for being an anime fan, dismissing it as “Oh, my roommate likes to watch cartoons.” (My freshman year roommate, not so much. The sophomore and junior year roommates—the first semester ones-- *sigh.* Look, there’s a good reason why when I tell people how I met my best friend in my sophomore second semester, I leave in the fact that she asked me “Is that a Sailor Moon musical song playing?”) I knew exactly how Cath felt when Wren and Courtney would make jokes about how obsessed Cath is over her Simon Snow slash fic, or why she’s so apprehensive when even Reagan comments on it. But it’s not just presented as Cath being an obsessive crazy fangirl. Rainbow Rowell gets why people get into fandom and write fic and do obsess over whatever their thing is. Fandom isn’t a weird thing, nor should it be considered weird—it’s there to comfort you. It’s not going to shield you completely from the bad things in life, and nor should you use it to hide from the bad things, but it’s there when you need it. You take the important aspects of the fandom or the thing you’re into and you use that to get through the bad times. Again, to use a personal example, I wear a Saturn symbol pendant every day. Tomoe Hotaru/Sailor Saturn is my absolute favorite anime character, and largely because she was someone who I could relate to because of being lonely and bullied in school. And she was able to overcome that (after y’know, sacrificing herself and being resurrected, but that’s beside the point), and I really grabbed onto that. It’s not just because I’m obsessed with Sailor Saturn, it’s because there’s a larger personal meaning to it for me, and that’s why I wear it. But Rowell also acknowledges that yes, fandom is and can be a very important part of somebody’s life, it shouldn’t be the only thing in your life. You can’t really close yourself off to everyone and lose yourself in whatever fictional world you’ve chosen, and you need to have an anchor to the real world. Even stuff like Cath being encouraged to use her writing for more original stories is treated very positively—she’s not being told “No you must never ever write fan fic again!” but it’s more “You’re a strong writer, and you’ve honed it well, but you haven’t tried making something your own.” (And oh thank God that this is addressed like that. I’m a proponent of the idea that fanfic is a great writing tool, and to see it portrayed positively is great. OH and for having a professor who doesn’t think genre or children’s/YA or even fan fic is evil and horrible and you must write GREAT LITERATURE. My god, I got a lot of that when I said I wanted to write YA in my classes.) Speaking of college, this is a far more accurate portrayal of college life than a lot of the NA books I keep seeing pushed around. The freshman anxieties and the stress of the first semester—is the roommate going to like you; does the food suck; omg I can’t do this I have to drop out I’m an idiot. (The only thing I found unrealistic is Cath posting 2K+ word chapters to her fanfic almost daily. HOW. HOW—I never had a huge fic like hers and I dropped a bunch in my freshman year!) But I really liked that this is a frank look at college that doesn’t dress it up as high school with more booze and sex. It’s a part of Cath’s growth that she does get dragged out of her dorm room by both Reagan and Levi and starts experiencing the good parts of being in college.And I really liked Cath, and not just because I could relate to her awkward geekiness. Because her attachment to Simon Snow isn’t about her being childish or being unable to let go of the past, but because of her abandonment issues. Cath’s been abandoned by her mother, and when she leaves for school, she feels like she’s abandoning her father, and Wren’s abandoning both of them. And Cath has legitimate reasons for feeling apprehensive and scared about this—she doesn’t want to abandon her family, but it feels like she’s being forced to do so. When Cath confronts her dad about wanting to leave school, it’s not just because of her inability to write an original short story; she’s genuinely afraid of leaving her dad and have him spiral further into maniac depression. Even though Wren pushes Cath away while they’re at school, Cath’s still worrying about her sister and is there when Wren inevitably crashes. I liked that Cath is there for the people that she cares about, and that for as much as she walls herself up into the world of Simon Snow, she does care about people.I also really love her relationship with Reagan and Levi. First of all, even though the two don’t fully grasp the level of Simon Snow fandom that Cath’s at, they are willing to understand her fan feels and are really interested in what she does—Reagan may not read Simon/Baz fanfic, but she understand that it’s important to Cath. But Reagan also understands that it’s not healthy for Cath to be holed up all of the time, and so she pretty much forces Cath out of her shell. (Also, Reagan’s not vilified for having multiple boyfriends. Win!) As for Levi, *swoon*. When a guy desperately wants you to read your slash fic to him out loud, you keep him. I love Levi in all of his oversized dorkiness. And also, he’s not a full knight in shining flannel—even though he unknowningly messes up in front of Cath, he does have legitimate reasons, and Cath accepts his apology without a lot of handwringing over other college girls. And I also really like that the ending isn’t Cath ultimately giving up her interests so that she can be with Levi, but rather Levi getting more into Simon Snow to understand Cath better.(May I just point out that I’m not only extremely happy that Nick wasn’t there for a love triangle, but I also LOVE that there’s this huge take that to his kind of character by him writing an anti-love story featuring a MPDG and then getting slammed with plagiarism and consequences for it. Oh, I laughed at his comeuppance.) I also really like that while a large part of the plot is centered around Wren’s pulling away from Cath, Wren isn’t demonized or put in the wrong for what she does. Yes, Wren does end up in the hospital for binge drinking and she’s punished for it, but Cath accepts that they can find their own friendships and rekindled their relationship. But there’s no scene of Cath yelling at Wren at the book’s climax that wakes Wren up to what’s going on. This is a book of moral greys for the characters, and I liked how Rowell explores this sister relationship and reconciles it. I can’t properly talk about Fangirl without getting into the Simon Snow series. This is actually the thing that got me interested in the book in the first place (coming off my Eleanor & Park high), because Harry Potter-expy satire? Sign me up. (For the record, my aforementioned best friend is a definitive Slytherin, and a mutual friend of ours is not on a huge slash fan, but a Harry/Draco fan to boot. I’ve told both that I’m going to force this on them.) I love that we not only get excerpts of Cath’s fanfics in here, but also passages from the Simon Snow series itself. (Which reads like the unholy spawn of Harry Potter and the Mortal Instruments series.) There’s even a great moment when Cath encounters one of her own fangirls and has to dance around the question of “OMG so what do you think is going to happen next in MagiCath’s fanfic?!” I really wanted to see more of the unnamed fangirl in this.In comparison to Eleanor & Park, it’s very different—there’s some gut-punching moments in Fangirl, but not as bad. And for as much fun as Fangirl is, there’s a lot deeper meaning and emotion than the cover would lead on. I really liked what this book is about and the message Rowell gives. Again, what I really love about the end of this book is that Cath isn’t forced to give up her fandom or even tone it down, but rather, her getting two people more into Simon Snow. There’s very few female-led media that addresses the idea that growing up doesn’t mean you have to let go of the things you find important, even if it’s seen as childish and trite. This is a fantastic read, and I highly recommend it.