When people ask of my hobbies, in addition to sleeping and writing, I like to add: “Oh, yeah, I read bad YA novels, too.”
He or she chuckles, confused, and repeats: “Bad YA novels? What does that mean?”
“Young adult novels that are terrible, in prose or plot development or character development.”
Truth be told, I like to read all young adult novels; it’s just that the terrible ones tend to get a greater immediate reaction out of me, and there are so many of them!
A typical trait of many YA novels is the middle/high school setting. When I got to college, I wondered why there were so few college-setting books? Is it because what goes on there has been glamorized by television–with the booze, the sex, the drugs, the fun?
It started to make me believe that I was doing the college experience wrong. I am not engaged in any of the above debauchery. A typical Friday night includes gorging myself on Dining Hall pizza and ice cream before heading back to the dorm and arguing with my friends over which movie to watch before we agree to watch some harmless rom-com or retire to bed, reading a book.
“Fangirl” by Rainbow Rowell reiterated all that I think of college and more. Not only is her main character a triple non-partier, drinker, and smoker, but she actually spends time doing her homework–an aspect of college previously unheard of in the pop culture media!
Fangirl stems around a girl named Cath, who is heading to college in Nebraska, where she hopes to major in English and become a fiction writer. She doesn’t really want to make friends; she has her twin sister, Wren, there and her sorta-boyfriend, Abel, back home, and her fanfiction. Yes, her fanfiction.
Previously undiscovered in media in detail, Rowell presents the culture of fanfiction through Cath, a major writer on the fanfiction site. Cath basically writes the Harry Potter equivalent fanfiction of a Harry and Draco pairing, and she has quite a following. She’s on the clock; she wants to finish her story before the actual last book in the series comes out, but everything will be fine, right?
A few weeks before school starts, Wren tells Cath that they shouldn’t room together. Cath needs to break out and find her own friends, that’s what college is for, right?
So while Wren embraces the drinking and party culture with her new best friend/roommate, Courtney, Cath attempts to stay out her cranky, upperclassmen roommate, Reagan, and Reagan’s “maybe boyfriend”/excited puppy best friend, Levi’s way when going back and forth to her room between classes.
I refuse to spoil the book anymore because I think anyone who is in college, was in college, going to college, or even thought the word “college” in any way, should read this book. Honestly, whatever pre-conceived notions you think you have about the plot and characters are going to be upended and tossed aside.
Rowell is absolutely brilliant in presenting this other side of college, this absolutely realistic side (that is never shown) and in conveying the unfolding of events in Cath’s life in such a way as to not appear as “deux ex machina” when things go right or “saw that irony coming!” when things go wrong. Not only does she explore the relationship between classmates, siblings, significant others, and parents in a coming-of-age story, we, as the readers, also relate to the relationships contributed to inanimate objects, such as fictional characters, books, assignments, that still greatly affect our thoughts and our lives, a paradox in and of itself.
For me, it does beg the question of whether of not I would still love this book, if the main character were not so relatable to myself. Part of the reason, I disliked John Green’s “Looking for Alaska” was because the lifestyle of underage drinking and sex, and fantasies of a person who was almost completely indifferent to your existence seemed weird, odd, and out-of-place. How would “Fangirl” change for me, if I were to read it from Wren’s point of view? (Answer: I would probably be rooting for Cath whenever she showed up).
Fortunately for me, I do not have to make that choice, as Rowell has already written and published the book from Cath’s point of view. For now, I do not have wonder if I love the book; I can simply say thank you to Rowell for finally creating a “college” book from a different point of view. Thank you for making this book not only part of my top three of favorite books, but also for making it not part of my “Bad YA” hobby.