Desert Isle Keeper
The title of this book perfectly describes my relationship to writer Rainbow Rowell. I’ve now read two of her books and both have easily earned DIK reviews, and I’m thrilled to add a new auto-buy author to a very, very short list. I’m also happy to set Fangirl as the bar to which, in my opinion, all New Adult titles should strive to reach.
Cather Avery and her twin sister, Wren, used to share everything. Clothes. Friends. A mother who walked out on them when they were in the third grade, leaving them with a loving but mentally ill father. Perhaps the thing that bound them together the most was their mutual adoration for Simon Snow, the wildly popular character of a runaway hit series of books (think Harry Potter). They’d practically memorized the Simon Snow books and movies. They’d spent all of their free time hanging out with other fans in Simon Snow chat forums. And they wrote hugely successful Simon Snow fan fiction about the boy wizard and his adventures.
But as Cath and Wren set off for their first year at the University of Nebraska, Wren is ready to leave her childhood passions behind in order to embrace college and a party life style. Cath can’t understand how her sister can so easily give up the world of Simon Snow, the only place that Cath herself feels comfortable. She’s crushed when Wren chooses to dorm with another girl, leaving a socially anxious Cath to deal with everything that is scary and unfamiliar. Aside from attending her classes, Cath hides out in her room, surviving on protein bars (she’s too timid to face the dining hall alone) and losing herself in writing her greatest Simon Snow fanfic yet.
Thankfully, Cath’s blowsy, upper-classman roommate Reagan figures out that Cath is going to need some serious handholding to fully transition to college life. She encourages Cath to actually find the dining hall and introduces her to Levi, Reagan’s ex high-school-sweetheart and current best friend. While Cath still prefers her solitary existence to going to parties, she begins to come out of her shell. She pairs up with Nick, a fellow student in her high-level creative writing course, to work on assignments and original fiction. Through it all, she spends every free moment writing Carry On, Simon, determined to finish her epic story before the final Simon Snow book is released.
However, Cath finds herself dealing with problems coming at her from every side. Without Cath and Wren around to keep an eye on him, Cath’s father begins to succumb to his manic illness. Wren embraces the college party scene a little too strenuously. Cath gets mixed messages from Levi, a real problem given her inexperience with boys in general. Perhaps worst of all, Wren reaches out to their mother, a woman Cath has long evicted from her life and her heart. Overwhelmed by how complex her own world has become, Cath wants only to lose herself in her Simon Snow fanfic, but even that one comfort turns out to cause her problems.
There is so much to like about this book, it’s hard to know where to start. Cath makes an amazing protagonist. Unlike the plastic, cookie cutter heroines of so many other NA books, with their perfect looks and shallow insecurities, Cath suffers true social anxieties. Her struggles to overcome her fears over being in a place so totally foreign and new without the support of her twin sister are true obstacles. However, Cath is far from a doormat, standing up for herself when it really counts. She is fiercely protective of her father, and her frustration and pain over what she perceives as Wren’s countless betrayals is heartbreaking.
The romance in Fangirl develops slowly and naturally. Given her introverted nature, Cath’s inexperience and naivety rings true. As a hero, Levi is a refreshing change from the typical six-packed, tattooed NA stud (hello, receding hairline!), and he makes some pretty big missteps that cause Cath serious heartache. But the way Cath’s view of him changes as her feelings for him move through the spectrum from annoyance into love is very realistic. Their first kiss was knee-meltingly sweet.
The role of fan fiction in Fangirl is something unique and wholly current. Those who have never understood or enjoyed the world of fan fiction might find it difficult to relate to Cath’s obsession with Simon Snow. But for those of us who have either read or written in a particular fandom, her experience is so very familiar. Indeed, whether Rainbow Rowell intended it or not, I found Cath’s reluctance to leave behind the well-known and comfortable world of Simon Snow to perfectly parallel her discomfort with leaving behind the security of childhood. It’s only as she learns to create her own fictional worlds that she realizes that she has the strength to face the adult world.
I could gush for another few hundred words about Fangirl, but I’d rather just send you off to get started on this terrific story. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.