I will admit that I have never really been a fangirl for anything. I have been a fan, I am often girly, but I have never embodied the community seeking, intense dedication, and emotional attachment that seems to define the typical fangirl. My interests are too broad and my attention span is too shallow to dedicate myself to learning the intricacies of fandom. I grew up not really using the Internet much until late high school, so I never had a chance to get on fanfic forums and write--although, looking back, I feel like I probably would have fallen very deep down that rabbit hole if I had been given a chance.
That did not stop me from loving Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell with a fierce intensity and need to stay up all night and finish another chapter, then another, and another. It took me awhile to get over the protagonist's ridiculous name (every time I read "Cather" my mind went to "catheter") but I guffawed when it was revealed that Cather and her sister Wren were initially supposed to be just one baby named Catherine. And then, I got sad: Cather's mother was honestly so unenthused about becoming a mother that she couldn't even muster up the excitement to pick a second name when she ended up having twins, hence branding her daughters with strange names. That two sided emotional coin flip was executed multiple times by Rowell throughout the book: first, you giggle, then, you grow quiet with realization. The maternal coldness that permeated the book was striking, and bothered me on a deep level. My mother is the polar opposite of Cather's mother, and I could not imagine how painful it must have felt to not only be rejected and left by your mother at eight, but newly rejected and ignored at eighteen.
The maternal relationships in this book are a quiet undercurrent running through the bright, shiny universe of Simon Snow and Cather's subtle fame as a fanfic author. Cather needs a lot of mothering, whether she likes it or not, to come to terms with her deep anger and anxiety. Reagan's "tough love," kick-you-in-the-pants style of maternal friendship is a small gem that shines throughout the book. I appreciated that Rowell let women exist in her universe without niceties, and, more importantly, without anyone forcing them to be nicer. Cather and Reagan are rough and unfinished, and those qualities are celebrated as keys to their happiness, not treated as something to be worn down with romance or male validation. But damn, the actual mothers, though! Levi has a hovermom propelled by her religious fanaticism; Cather has a completely absent mother who abandoned her in childhood. Could we get any more extreme? All of the parents are pretty dysfunctional in this book, which invites the pseudo-parental figures, like Reagan and Cather's creative writing professor, to take on "parenting" duties. Because, newsflash: you don't magically stop benefiting from parental guidance when you turn eighteen and go to college.
Ultimately, Fangirl is about becoming a Fanwoman. You can carry the things you loved in childhood into your adulthood. They can grow and evolve with you. It's also okay to discard certain childhood ideas that no longer serve you, just like how Wren had to learn to discard her hope for her mother's eventual return. The book protects and cherishes fannishness of all kinds, and serves as a lovely metaphor and bit of comfort for us adults who love young adult fiction. You don't have to stop reading YA books in your twenties. Heck, I'm turning 25 and I'm reading more YA now than I ever have before. The key is to let ourselves stay open to growth, to healing, and to new experiences. It took Cather awhile to get there, but once she came to terms with her hurt, her anxiety, and her anger, she allowed herself to open up to love and a deeper sense of family.