I read Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl a few weeks ago but it was one of those books that I needed to rest in my mind before I discussed it. I thought I was going to read a sweet boy-meets-girl-who-writes-fanfic young adult book. I was already aware that there was a buzz around this book coming from readers who I trust with their recommendations. I expected humour, angst, family conflicts, coming of age, new friendships and romantic interests. And this book had plenty of all those ingredients in the story of Cather, her relationship with her twin sister Wren and their first year in college and how Cath copes when Wren decides that she no longer wanted to share a room with Cath, who is the quieter, more reflective twin.
The story is told in the third person from Cath’s perspective (I love 3rd POV). Cath struggles to adapt in her new college environment, worrying about her father being alone, having issues with her mother’s abandonment when she was young, meeting her new roommate, Reagan, and her friend, Levi who seems to spend all his time in their dorm room, as well as the freshman pressures of negotiating classes and group assignments. Cath has come to college as a fanfiction writer with a strong following, with fans waiting for regular updates to her story around a Harry Potter-like fictional series with Simon Snow as the central character and his nemesis, Baz. Despite her success at writing fanfiction, Cather’s writing professor considers this writing to be plagiarism and Cath struggles throughout the book to find her authorial voice. Cath’s fanfics punctuate every chapter of Fangirl and the changing relationship of Simon and Baz runs parallel to Cath’s life.
This alone would have made a wonderful read but part way through the book, Levi (the perennial hangaround friend) is assigned Katherine Paterson’s Jacob Have I Loved for one of his class readings and Fangirl completely came together for me. Jacob Have I Loved, which won the 1981 Newbery award, is a story of twin sisters Louise and Caroline. Told in the third person from Louise’s point of view, Louise is the quieter, more introspective twin. The story runs with the biblical parallel of Jacob and Esau and their contest for being the first born. The twins’ grandmother is shrewish and mean and Louise, who was the stronger twin to the ailing weaker Caroline, keeps being reminded that being the older twin is not a reward. “Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated” from the bible showing God hated Esau, the hard working older brother who sold his birthright to his more cunning younger brother for a plate of lentils.
I felt that Rowell depicted twins Cather and Wren in much the way that Paterson depicted the struggles between Louise and Caroline. Neither of them claimed the position of first born as they were a C-section. Nonetheless, Cath observes that “Wren was bigger. She was stealing my juice or something” placing Cath in the role of Caroline and Jacob. In the bible Jacob and Esau do not reconcile, and in Jacob Have I Loved, though Louise finds love from her parents and romance, she and her sister remain distant. Perhaps I am reading too much into the inclusion of Jacob Have I loved in Fangirl but I felt as though Rowell wrote her own fanfiction for these twin sisters who should have been able to be happy, to be linked together in a story that I always loved but felt saddened by the ending. Cath says at the beginning of the book “Having a twin sister was supposed to be like having your own watcher. Your own guardian”. These two sisters negotiate their own relationship and rather than be pulled apart, they too find happiness. I loved this.
Happily ever after, or even just together ever after, is not cheesy,” Wren said. “It’s the noblest, like, the most courageous thing two people can shoot for.
Certainly, this book captures this feeling of not being cheesy for me. Cath gets happiness in this book. Happiness with Levi, with her sister and eventually with her ability to write. This intricately woven story was a pleasure to read and I highly recommend this book.