Books that Changed My Life: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

The first time I saw Fangirl, it was on the new arrivals shelf in the young adult section of my local library. That’s where I found a lot of the books I read in middle and high school, so it shouldn’t have been a special moment, but it was.

Here was this book, with a girl and her laptop on the cover, lounging on the word that made me stop in my tracks: FANGIRL.

I was a teenager and I wrote fanfiction, but it was my little secret. I was convinced nobody would understand it, or that I was going to be found out as a freak for posting it on the internet for strangers to read. If I was doing so much as reading Harry Potter fanfiction on Archive of Our Own and someone opened the door to my room I would slam the laptop shut.

But this book had it on the cover. This book, which is about an awkward, introverted girl who writes gay fanfiction and calls herself crazy and means it. I picked it up, because I was curious, and then I wasn’t the only person I knew who wrote fanfiction. Cath was in my corner.

Now, the cover wasn’t the only reason this book Changed My Life. If it was poorly written, or if the plot was boring or unrealistic, it would have just been a book about fanfiction that I was embarrassed to read. I would have felt exposed, rather than known. I am so happy that’s not the case.

Cath is not perfect. She’s not girl-next-door shy. She’s not awkward-until-I-take-off-my-glasses anxious. Cather Avery is nervous and introverted and that never changes. What changes is that she learns to share that with other people, and she does that without giving up the fandom. She does it without ever making the readers who identify with her feel shamed.

We even got, in Wren, a girl who is passionate about fanfiction, but who is also extroverted and brings home boyfriends (not that that’s a measure of success, but it was nice, seeing the type of girl I always envied love a book as much as I did). And her father, who knew they loved fanfiction and understood it.

But back to my main point: this book did a beautiful and magical thing by taking a character who resembles a real person, and letting her grow into herself without losing herself.

And as I’ve read the book, and then reread it over the years, I’ve been doing some growing of my own. I went to college and I wasn’t totally happy. I felt alone, and scared. I (and everyone else who’s ever sat down to write something) felt like I’ll never be able to create something as good as what I’ve read. But I had Cath, who felt all of this, and didn’t need curing. She just needed encouragement, and time.

I didn’t think people wrote stories about introverts, especially not in fandom. If they did, I didn’t think they’d sell. And Fangirl did both of those things, because it was a book for people who loved books. The kind of people who knew how to lose themselves in a story, who knew what it was like to love a character so much they just have to make friends halfway around the world so they can talk about it.

We finally got to read about ourselves.

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