Originally published March 2014

Wow, but there are days I’d love to go back to college.

Not for forever—I don’t miss the studying and still have those nightmares where I realize during Finals Week that I completely forgot to go to class and know I am about to bomb a final—just for a weekend or two. And I’d want to go back without the benefit of the knowledge I’ve gained in the last 20-plus years. After all, what’s the point of the Wayback Machine if you use it, only to go to bed early, study more and avoid the soft-serve ice cream machine at all costs? Dangit, that was why college was fun.

So to read Fangirl was to wrap myself around those memories of freshman year. Rainbow Rowell transports her readers back to college in present day on the campus of the University of Nebraska. (A LitzyDitz fun fact: I was born in Lincoln and my dad and grandparents graduated from U of Nebraska. Big Ten represent!) Twin sisters Cath and Wren (Yep, a play off Catherine because Mom couldn’t think of two names) Avery arrive for their freshman year, each with issues in tow. The book is from Cath’s point of view—as she watches her sister bond with her new roommate, Courtney and as her father unravels without anyone at home to watch over him.

Cath tries to adjust. But it can’t be easy when you must come off as more than a little strange. After all, Cath is a Fangirl—she’s in love with the world of Simon Snow, a series of books and movies loosely based on Harry Potter and written by a fictional JK Rowling. Cath writes fan fiction. Her series, Carry On, Simon, has a huge following and people depend on her to get their latest Simon Snow fix. And it doesn’t help when you spend the first couple of months refusing to go to the dorm cafeteria because that would mean asking someone where it is, instead subsisting off energy bars hidden in your room. Throughout the book, which stretches the length of her freshman year, Cath juggles her estranged sister, a sad dad, the dark and sardonic roomie Reagan, her (boy?)friend Levi, a budding writing partner with classmate Nick, and her fans.

The book is nothing if not easily engaging—a reason I have enjoyed Rowell’s work in the past. I may be the only person left that has not yet read Eleanor and Park, but I did really like Attachments. Rowell is more than adept at drawing readers in with very likeable and easy-to-relate-to characters. I root for Cath, I am confounded by Wren, and I kinda want to smack Courtney around a little. There are certainly parts of the novel which felt not-quite-real, or perhaps not as complete, but Rowell has a lot going on here. And didn’t we all when we were just trying to figure out freshman year? The book captures that huge life transition from child to adult, girl to young woman, beautifully, and brings to life all that crazy that comes with first love.

A great book for a weekend read or a trip to the beach. Rowell doesn’t miss when it comes to an entertaining read!

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