I was 12 when I snuck Chamber of Secrets into my computer class. Fifteen when I wrote fan fiction to bridge the endless gap between books 4 and 5. Eighteen when the final book came out; 21, the final movie. I was a Harry Potter fan: That was part of my identity.
Fangirl lets me imagine what life would have been like if I hadn’t left that part of me behind in high school. Like me, Rainbow Rowell’s Cath, a reclusive college freshman, is a fan of Harry Potter — ahem, Simon Snow, the wizard wunderkind’s Fangirl alter ego. It’s her life, and it used to be Wren, her twin sister’s, too, before college and sororal independence got in the way of their shared love of Simon Snow slash fanfiction (bits of which, detailing Simon’s love affair with his nemesis Baz, Rowell has scattered throughout the novel).
Cath’s got a fanclub of her own and a novel-length book in the final stages of completion but trouble keeping her head on straight in the real world, outside of her computer and outside of Simon Snow. It’s a swift, two-sided portrayal of the side effects of a difficult upbringing, with Cath and Wren handling the fallout of leaving home and the return of their long-absent mother in very difficult and very expected ways: Where Cath retreats inward, to the embrace of the internet and her own words, Wren bubbles outwards in a typical, exaggerated collegiate manner.
In another author’s hands, the story would be unremarkable — not unrealistic, nor poorly-plotted nor trite, but certainly nothing special. But that is Rowell’s speciality: Turning the 2D conventions of plot into something magical and immersive. Cath is not merely an impression of someone real, painted with words and references, but rather, a real person whom you have met, loved, glowered at and adored. In Rowell’s hands, she is real.
Where many allow obsessions to fall to the wayside in college, or at least bury them far under a shield of normalcy, Cath does the opposite, hanging posters on her wall and wearing buttons professing her love for the niche world of Simon Snow fandom. She does what many of us could not, and what could seem strange or abrasive instead humanizes her.
There’s a psychological theory, used when treating OCD, called exposure therapy: Exposing something to the very thing that makes them anxious, over and over again, until it’s become normal, accepted and OK. And with Cath — the vividly realized, perfectly real Cath — Rowell did this for me.
It can feel weird to be weird, feel wrong to be different. Especially in college, taking those first tentative steps into adulthood. Rowell deftly painted someone brave, insular, strong and scared, all at once. Even when it’s just taking something pervasively normal — Harry Potter, Cath’s Simon Snow — and doing something a little bit different with it. But watching Cath, cringing both with and at her as she never compromises on being herself, it’s simple to realize that it’s OK.
ROSEMARY CINNAMON CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
- 2 ¼ c. all purpose flour
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 1 c. (2 sticks) butter, softened
- ¾ c. granulated sugar
- ¾ c. packed brown sugar
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 2 eggs
- 4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
- 2 oz. white chocolate, chopped
- 2 tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
Preheat oven to 375º F.
In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. In a separate bowl, beat together the butter, sugar, brown sugar and vanilla until soft and creamy.
Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture one-third at a time, mixing until they form a smooth dough. Add both chocolates and the rosemary, mixing thoroughly into the dough.
Place onto cookie sheet in rounded tablespoons, and bake 9-11 minutes, until golden on top.