At first glance Fangirl might not seem like the sort of book that would resonate with me at all. The characters are a lot younger than me, there are no dragons or aliens or murder, the protagonist is female (which only ever matters in terms of some problems I will never have to face), there’s a large emphasis on fanfic (which I don’t do), and there’s a fairly hefty romance side plot. The book really worked for me overall, though. It was gently humorous, which helped, but I think a lot of what I connected to was Cath’s introversion and the going away to college experience. It doesn’t matter that my college experience was so different – I couldn’t help but be called back to my first semester and all the fear and excitement there. I remembered what it was like to meet these strangers I’d live with for a semester or more and have to learn how to get along with other people’s daily rhythms. There’s the fear and wonder with new classes, the adventure and tenseness of walking across campus for the first time… So yeah, it doesn’t matter that Cath is wandering through a Nebraskan campus complete with fields and animal pens and I was heading down a path in the woods that was sometimes blocked by moose – the essential college experience was the same underneath all the details.
I think the book explored, well, two extremes of the college experience in an interesting, if somewhat black and white, way. The moral may have been a bit strong, but then, it’s a definitely a time we probably look back on ourselves and judge things a bit more harshly, examine what we should have done… Because college life, after all, is one place that many of us feel we started ourselves down one pathway or another (or, if you’re me, you keep adding more paths on…).
The other two main subplots have to do with caring for someone with a mental illness – and this subplot was handled well – and dealing with a family trauma. I think that was also done well, but not in the way I expected at all. There’s usually a formula for that sort of thing, but a lot of it is neatly sidestepped so Cath can make her own way.