60 pages 2 hours read

Rainbow Rowell


Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2013

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Summary and Study Guide


Fangirl is a 2013 contemporary young adult novel by Rainbow Rowell. Rowell is an award-winning author whose novels depict relatable struggles in the contemporary world. Her most acclaimed contemporary young adult novels, Fangirl and Eleanor & Park, and her most acclaimed adult novel, Landline, are all set in and around her hometown of Omaha, Nebraska.

Fangirl follows 18-year-old Cath Avery as she navigates identity, family, and romantic struggles in her first year at college. Her anxiety makes it difficult to perform basic tasks after her twin, Wren, wants to create more distance between them to gain independence. Cath relies on the support of her Simon Snow fanfiction community, which Rowell based on the Harry Potter fandom. After Fangirl, Rowell went on to write a trilogy of fantasy novels set in the Simon Snow universe. The first book in the Simon Snow trilogy was published in 2015. It shares a title with Cath’s fanfiction in Fangirl, Carry On, but Rowell has stated that it is her own story, not Cath’s fanfiction. Carry On is followed by two sequels, Wayward Son (2019) and Any Way the Wind Blows (2021).

Fangirl was honored as a New York Times Notable Book, an Indigo Books Best Teen Book of the Year, and Tumblr’s first Reblog Book Club book and was part of the Amazon Editors’ Top 20 Teen and Young Adult Books of the Year, Indigo Books Top 10 Books of the Year, and Junior Library Guild selection; it also Topped LibraryReads’ first favorites list selection. Fangirl was also adapted into a manga series illustrated by Gabi Nam.

This study guide refers to the 2013 St. Martin’s Press hardback.

Content Warning: The source text uses stigmatizing language to portray mental health conditions such as anxiety, eating disorders, and bipolar disorder. It depicts both maternal abandonment and inadvertent paternal neglect, as well as teen alcohol abuse and alcohol poisoning.

Plot Summary

When identical twins Cath and Wren Avery enter their first year of college, Wren insists on having separate dorm rooms so they can gain a new sense of independence. Cath sees this as a betrayal, and since she has anxiety, she finds it difficult to enter new situations without Wren’s company. She and Wren have taken care of each other since they were eight when their mother abandoned them. The symptoms of their father’s bipolar disorder made him periodically unable to care for them. Cath wants things to stay as they were in high school when she and Wren looked after their father and wrote fanfiction for their favorite young adult fantasy series, Simon Snow. Though Wren has stopped writing, Cath’s fanfiction Carry On—about Simon’s final year in wizarding school—has tens of thousands of followers.

Cath spends most of her time alone in her dorm writing or eating protein bars. Cath’s older roommate, Reagan, notices Cath’s behavior and begins to go to the dining hall with her and invite her out to activities with her friend Levi, who Cath incorrectly assumes is her boyfriend. In her upper-division fiction writing class, which she enrolled in with special permission of the teacher, Professor Piper, Cath befriends an upperclassman named Nick. Nick’s writing is much darker than hers, but she enjoys writing with him. They collaborate on several assignments and get such great feedback from Piper that they start to write together on weeknights for fun. Levi is always around Cath’s dorm and insists on walking her to the library to meet Nick. When Cath’s high school boyfriend, Abel, breaks up with her, she realizes she never had romantic feelings for him.

Meanwhile, Wren and her roommate, Courtney, spend most weekends partying. Wren regularly drinks to excess and blacks out. She and Courtney start the severely calorie-restrictive “Skinny Bitch” diet to offset the calories they consume while drinking. Cath is concerned, but Wren does not want her help. When their mother, who abandoned their family 10 years ago, reaches out to re-establish contact, Cath is furious. She traces her anxiety, the increased severity of the symptoms of her father’s bipolar disorder, and Wren’s recklessness back to their mother’s abandonment. Wren begins to talk to their mother and meet with her, which adds to the rift growing between the twins.

Levi supports Cath through her troubles with Wren. He finds her fanfiction interesting and sometimes asks her to read it to him. When Cath learns that he has trouble understanding books when he reads them, she reads his assigned book out loud to him, and they kiss. She learns the next day that Levi and Reagan dated in high school but broke up and that Levi has liked Cath for months. She and Reagan go to a party to find Levi, but he is kissing another girl.

Nick betrays Cath by turning in the project they collaborated on as his final project. Though Cath loves writing Carry On, she has trouble writing original fiction. Early in the semester, Professor Piper scolded her for turning in fanfiction for an assignment, calling it “plagiarism.” Cath misses all her finals when her father is admitted to St. Richard’s Center for Mental and Behavioral Health after a psychological crisis. She leaves town to help him while Wren stays at school.

Next semester, Professor Piper gives her a chance to make up her final fiction writing project. Cath accepts even though she does not plan to complete the assignment. She makes up with Levi: Cath ignored his texts after they kissed, so he thought she was not interested in him. They begin a romantic relationship, though they move slowly due to Cath’s fear of trust and abandonment.

Though Cath and Wren have not spoken for weeks, Cath gets a call from Wren’s cellphone. It is their mother, calling to tell Cath that Wren has been admitted to the hospital for alcohol poisoning. The hospital called her because they looked up “mother” on Wren’s phone. Cath sees her mother for the first time in 10 years. After hearing Wren will be okay, their mother leaves, confirming Cath’s belief that she will always leave during difficult times. Levi and Wren’s boyfriend, Jandro, show up at the hospital for moral support. The twins’ father sets ground rules, which Wren unwillingly agrees to: She will stop drinking entirely, attend counseling, and come home every weekend. Cath is comforted by the fact that Wren and their father will be able to look after one another.

Cath’s relationship with Levi becomes more serious. Wren starts hanging out with Cath again, helping her finish Carry On before the final Simon Snow book is released. Professor Piper confronts Nick about passing Cath’s work off as his own and tells him he can only publish the story in the undergraduate journal if Cath agrees to be listed as a co-author. Cath declines, realizing Nick is not important. Though Wren asks to room with Cath next year, Cath agrees to room with Reagan again instead, realizing that she and Wren need to find a healthy balance of dependence on one another.

When Levi finds out that Cath is ignoring her fiction writing assignment to finish Carry On, he confronts her about throwing away her second chance to succeed in her class. This makes Cath reassess her priorities, more evenly balancing her fanfiction writing and original writing. She, Wren, Levi, and Reagan all go to the midnight release of the final Simon Snow book together. Cath finishes her original fiction for Professor Piper’s class, and it wins a prize in the undergraduate literary journal.