Books for Dinner Review: Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell

In this here magnifulous comic by the brilliagoric Lynda “Lynda-de-Bari” Barry, you get to watch a lady metamorphose through a few different stages of Life as a Reader. First off, you see her as a crawling baby caterpillar reader, munching through every kind of book she likes and chewing up this one favorite, Scotch Egg Mystery, again and again and again. Then the lady huddles up into a little reader chrysalis for a while, trying to just read the books that other people say make you smart to be reading them. Then when she finds Scotch Egg Mystery once more, decades and decades later, she gobbles it up again and she remembers how good that is, just to spend a few hours with a book that is fun to read and that you love, and she butterfly-breaks from her self-conscious reading cocoon for good.

Fangirl probably is not your own personal Scotch Egg of a childhood favorite book, because it just came out this year. But oh, my friends, and oh, my ferrets: Fangirl sure as all get out is a book that will make you feel the way that lady felt when she remembered how to just read a book because it feels so good. It will make you remember what your Scotch Egg book was and re-read it next week. It will remind your reading self that even though it is very important and interesting to read and think about books that take the shape of sierpinski gaskets and make your brain do acrobatics, it is still absolutely vital to also read books that crack up the layers of cocoons we wrap around ourselves when our feelings feel caterpillar-shy. It will remind your writing self that as cool as it would be to write a book in the shape of a sierpinski gasket, you would still have done something very very good and not at all easy if you just wrote a book that made people care what happens to the characters by the end.

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In Fangirl, that character is mostly Cath. She’s just starting college, and her Fiction Writing professor is considerably less thrilled than Cath’s international online following that what Cath really likes writing is fanfiction. Cath isn’t even sure she wants to—or can—write any other kind of fiction at all. Maybe she should just change her major? Meanwhile, her twin sister Wren is partying an awful lot and not acting much like the built-in best friend Cath’s always had in Wren before. Their single dad is home alone now, and, Cath strongly (legitimately) suspects, not sure how to take care of himself when he doesn’t have daughters around to take care of first. To top it all off, Cath is genuinely romantically interested in a non-fictional male for the first time in her life, but she sure as hell doesn’t want to go through what her dad went through when her mom left him, and isn’t that what she’ll probably have to do if she kisses anyone she actually likes?

The very short of it is this: if you have ever been afraid of doing something you love, leaving a parent unsupervised, or trusting a person you like so much it hurts—or if you’ve ever been like, “Wait, was I supposed to like college?”—Fangirl is a friend for you to talk to. Plus, there are hilariously snarky roommates, Emergency Kanye Dance Parties, and, if it’s been a really bad night, huge midnight helpings of hot corned beef hash.

A while ago, a fellow fiction-crazed co-worker and I were trying to think of what to call That Really Good Thing You Get from Reading. And a third-party co-worker said, as if we were incredibly slow on the uptake for people who had built careers out of reading and writing, “Um… pleasure?” And we felt ridiculous because we knew for sure that it wasn’t just that, but we still couldn’t say what it IS, either.

Fangirl is like this. It’s so golly-dang easy and fun to read and to like, I must have just read it for pleasure, right? But there’s more to it than that. It’s like if I go out for a cup of coffee with a friend or a ferret and she or he confides some important things to me and I sit there saying, “I have never thought of this in the way you are describing before, but yes, sure, yes,” or, alternatively, “YES! YES! Every day this happens, YES!” There is pleasure there, but it’s not the only thing or the most important thing. Something more is happening that will make me feel less lonely when I get back to my apartment in the night and more happy when I get up the next morning. The experience of reading Fangirl (twice in about as many weeks, in fact) was like that. And a lot of books are like that, and of course some of them are the kind of books written in the shape of a sierpinski gasket, because to say there are only certain types of books that can do it is not the point. The point is that this is one of the greatest things a book can do, and if any cocoons are keeping you from getting it from a book in the shape of a big plate of corned beef hash, you might go to sleep less lonely tonight if you let a book like Fangirl crack a cocoon-shell or two away.

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