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Need a little Nanowrimo inspiration? Read Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, which started as a nano project. Though this is a relatively new book, I’m already late to the party. People really really love this one. And when readers love a book, they’ll tell anyone they can get their grubby paws on. So watch out. If you see a wide-eyed stranger over-enthusiastically approaching, surrender and join the club. You can run, but we will find you. Sleep with one eye open and you may still wake up beside a worn copy.

A funny thing happened after I finished this and convinced my thirty-something fellow to check it out. See, I was skeptically curious if a grown man would appreciate a contemporary coming-of-age novel about a young woman. We were on the subway the other day and he was deep in the story when some stranger man comes up and gets all chatty, asking what it’s about and saying how much he liked Rainbow Rowell’s other book, Eleanor and Park. So I guess it was silly of me to question Fangirl’s ability to attract a male audience.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

First we have to talk about the cover. Am  the only one who wants to eat it? I don’t normally feel this way about book covers, but the colors, font and illustration look like fun times, soft and delicious like a chewy oatmeal raisin cookie hot out of the oven. Right?

Cath begins her freshman year at a rural Nebraskan college as many begin college, alone. Her twin sister Wren chose not to room with her, roommate Reagan doesn’t seem to like her, her dud boyfriend dumps her, and, though the school is physically close to her home city of Omaha, everything seems different. Worst of all, classes are keeping her from updating the eighth and final installment of her wildly popular Potter-esque Simon Snow fan fiction series, Carry On.

The book is divided into Fall and Spring semester, so the plot generally hangs on the inherent structure of a school year, which was something I also loved about the Harry Potter series. Things start out rough and you feel Cath’s laughable pains – not being able to find the dining hall therefore living off of peanut butter and protein bars, trying to update Carry On in the privacy of her small, crowded dorm room and accepting the fact that her roommate probably makes fun of her with her cute farm boy boyfriend, and not so laughable pains – worrying about her bi-polar father now living alone and not thinking about the mother who abandoned them all.

Cath doesn’t drink like her sister, date like her roommate or work. Her fall semester is a time of slow changes and small, tingly moments between the above mentioned pains. A highlight is an advanced fiction writing workshop she talked her way into, taught by a professor who sees her potential as an aspiring writer. Late nights writing at the library with a handsome if cliched writing partner give her glimpses of what it’s like to write original fiction. With a partner it’s easy, but creating characters on her own isn’t nearly as fun as writing in the Simon Snow world.

Maybe this doesn’t sound very exciting, but the thing is Rainbow Rowell is crazy good at creating characters that seem real and developing their relationships in a way that makes you feel like you’re wearing too many sweaters, sitting at the dining hall table poking fun at others with them. Some of the credit goes to the natural, funny dialogue, and some goes to the overall easy tone. Perhaps she writes with her feet up.

Treat yourself to this book when you feel like a fun read with some substance. My minor complaint is that the second half doesn’t do the first half justice. I wanted more, but as things started getting all lovey-dovey I kind of felt excluded. Like they wanted some privacy, the friends who vanish once they couple up.

Fangirl is the kind of book you can’t wait to get home to. There’s drama and a first love, a dance party for two and the bumpy sister relationship to keep things colorful, as the cover promises. Much like those weirdly social college years, time flies and soon you reach the end. I have to say I’m hoping for a sequel somehow. Possibly Cath digresses over summer and needs to come of age again sophomore year…

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