Eighteen-year-old Cath is not looking forward to her first year of college. Her twin sister Wren, who has always seemed like her other half, decides they should both use college as a time to meet new friends—separately. But even as she stresses about her sister’s distance or what living alone will do to her loving but scatterbrained father, she has one constant in her life to lean on: her fan fiction.

Cath has been writing Simon Snow fan fiction since she was a preteen, and she’s become a bit of a celebrity in the community. With the series finishing up in the spring, she’s desperate to finish her version of Simon’s story before the author ends his journey in canon. In fact, she’s so busy writing her final fanfic, she barely has time to deal with an absentee mother who suddenly wants to re-enter her life, an English professor who admires her writing but thinks fan fiction is plagiarism, or the attention of a boy who’s always coming to her rescue no matter how many times she pushes him away.

Rainbow Rowell’s latest YA novel is truly fantastic. She creates an incredibly relatable protagonist with Cath, a college freshman who would rather live off granola bars for the entire year than ask her intimidating roommate for directions to the cafeteria. Yet in spite of her social anxiety, Cath is a character with tremendous inner strength who comes to the aid of her family without a second thought and who finds her confidence with a pen in her hand.

Rowell also creates a very believable romance, with a slow build and false starts that seem genuine to the college experience. All stages of her developing relationship are equally important, from Cath’s disbelief that such a guy would be interested in her to her questions about his expectations.

Fangirl is bound to become a classic for anyone who grew up writing fan fiction and to all the teens scrolling though Tumblr, hoping to meet others who have decided that their favorite novel’s protagonist and antagonist are actually the romantic leads. Even readers who have never heard of fanfic will be drawn in by Cath’s witty, original voice and the sense of safety she feels when disappearing into the world of a book.

Molly Horan has her MFA in writing for children and young adults from The New School.

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