This review and others are posted at Inspiring Insomnia.
You don't have to have a twin sister to feel Cath's pain when, during their freshman year at the same college, her twin, Wren, makes it clear she wants a separate identity from Cath. Wren wants a college experience of new friends, guys, parties, and maybe a little bit of school. Parties and meeting new people make Cath anxious, so the sisters quickly go their separate ways. Cath is hurt, but she accepts Wren's decision. Wren settles easily into college life with her new friends, and the relationship between the two sisters becomes more distant and strained. Cath has no interest in making new friends, and she refuses to interact unless absolutely necessary.
Cath's creative outlet is writing fanfiction. She's built a large and following of her work, and she is committed to her readers. I've never had any interest in reading fanfiction, and I still don't, but Fangirl helped me to understand the culture and the passion for a particular work that drives people to write it. In particular, I understood exactly why it was so meaningful to Cath.
Many people will relate to Cath and/or Wren, and I'm no different. For my freshman year of college, I went to school on the other side of the country, at a huge university where I knew no one, and I was desperately lonely. Like Cath, I hid in my room, I avoided interacting with anyone, and I was suspicious of anyone who tried. I transferred to a university back in my hometown for my sophomore year, joined a sorority, and then I turned into a Wren. (Guess which experience of mine resulted in better grades?)
Fangirl is filled with uniquely fascinating characters. Even though I was less than halfway finished reading this book at the time, Cath's brusque, abrasive roommate, Reagan, made my list of Top Ten Secondary Characters. I was worried someone would reply. "Wait a minute! Reagan is an evil serial killer!" I'm happy to say my instincts were right, because Reagan remained true, supportive, and funny as hell. Something in Cath cracked Reagan's tough shell, and she was determined to drag Cath out of her own shell, even if kicking and screaming were involved. Likewise, Cath draws out a caring side of Reagan that I'm not even sure Reagan knew existed.
I was all set for a love triangle between Cath, Levi (Reagan's long-time friend), and Nick (Cath's fiction writing classmate.) I firmly positioned myself as Team Levi. This guy is always smiling, always gracious, and he actually said, "Fuck you, Flowers In the Attic." (It's helpful to appreciate the comment if you've read the insane book that I read in my childhood, Flowers In the Attic, but trust me: it's funny.) But it soon became clear that there is no love triangle. It's all Levi, and it was just perfect. Rowell's writing is so wonderful that she didn't need any extra drama from a forced love triangle. It's obvious how much Levi cares about Cath, but she's afraid to fully trust him. Somewhat surprisingly (and definitely refreshingly), Levi is not the "traditional" type of hot we often find in books. I'll say it again: He's perfect.
What's NOT perfect is just about everything else in Cath's life: problems in one of her classes, continued strain with Wren, and issues with both parents. Cath is not without flaws, and stubbornness is one that tends to cause her problems. As painful as Wren's rejection was (that's how Cath initially viewed it), without it, I don't think Cath would have had any relationships like the ones with Levi and Reagan. These two really helped Cath to grow and become more confident, and without them, she would have continued living in Wren's shadow.
Rowell writes so perfectly of these imperfect people. They're not trying to save the world from an apocalypse; they're just trying to make life a little better for themselves. Through her writing and her characters, Rowell gives us everything we need to feel support and compassion for Cath and her loved ones.
Note - I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.