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Book Review

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting [magazine] (https://store.focusonthefamily.com/goaa-thriving "magazine").

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

For introverted Cather, her freshman year of college at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln is terrifying. For her identical twin, Wren, it is an adventure. Cather hates that Wren did not want to share a room with her and has forced her to live with a complete stranger, a girl named Reagan with an ever-present boyfriend named Levi.

Cather’s anxiety is such that she will only leave her room to go to class. Instead of eating in the dining hall, she makes do with power bars and peanut butter that she brought from home. Meanwhile, Wren is fully embracing college life. She and her roommate, Courtney, have become best friends and regularly party at the frat houses.

The only thing that eases Cather’s nerves is writing Simon Snow fanfiction. (Excerpts from the Simon Snow books and Cather’s fanfiction story, Carry On, begin every chapter.) While fans of the magical book series eagerly await the release of the eighth and final novel, they hungrily eat up Cather’s fanfiction story based in Snow’s world. She has thousands of devoted readers dying to know more about the homosexual love story she has created between Simon Snow and his arch nemesis, Baz. Cather finds it difficult to write however, with Levi’s constant presence in her room.

After a month, Reagan confronts Cather and accuses her of having an eating disorder. Cather finally admits that she does not know where the dining hall is and that she can’t handle the stress of eating in front of strangers. Reagan, an intimidating upperclassman, forces Cather to go to dinner with her. Although their initial conversations are antagonistic, the two eventually become friends.

Their favorite pastime is to make up stories about the other students in the dining hall. Cather also makes a friend in Nick, a fellow writer in her advanced-fiction writing class. He and Cather pair up to write a story for the class, and the story is well-received. They decide to meet at the library to work on another story together. Levi insists on walking Cather to and from the library at night, since Nick doesn’t offer.

Just when everything is going well for Cath, things begin to turn sour. Cather’s mother, who left when Cather and Wren were 8, starts talking to their father. She wants to try and have a relationship again with her daughters. Wren is open to the idea, but Cather is not. She will not forgive her mother for dumping them.

Cather receives another blow when her fiction professor gives her an F and accuses her of plagiarism for writing an assignment using the characters from the Simon Snow books. Desperate to cheer herself up, Cather returns to her dorm room and lip syncs to Kanye West songs on her laptop.

When Levi shows up, he joins in the fun until Cather receives an emergency text from her sister. Levi drives her to a bar just off campus, where Wren is drunk and dancing. She accidently sent the text to Cath. It had been a code for her roommate, Courtney, to come because a boy she liked was at the bar.

While Cather tries to get Wren to leave, Levi defends their honor from drunk patrons who want to see the hot twins make out together. Wren refuses to go back to her dorm room and sober up, so Cather and Levi are forced to let her walk away with Courtney and a boy named Jandro.

Thanksgiving at Cather’s house is not particularly festive. Wren has been talking to their mother and has agreed to spend Thanksgiving afternoon with her. Cather is furious. Especially when Wren does not return home for Thanksgiving dinner with her and their dad.

Cather returns to college and is glad when Levi comes by looking for Reagan for a study date. Unfortunately, Reagan is out. Levi admits to Cather that he has a learning disability and can’t read. Reagan has been summarizing books for him so he can keep up in class. When Reagan does not return to the room, Cather agrees to read to him. Eventually, Levi joins her on her bed. Many hours later, tired and emotionally spent from the story, Levi and Cather end up sharing several drowsy kisses then falling asleep.

Reagan is shocked when she comes home the following morning to find them in bed together. She gets over it quickly, as she admits that although she and Levi dated in high school, they are now only friends. Embarrassed at her behavior, Cather will not agree to go to a party at the house Levi shares with several other guys.

Reagan convinces her otherwise, but Cather is crushed when they see Levi kissing another girl in the kitchen. Reagan immediately takes Cather back to their room. Neither tells Levi what they saw, and Cather refuses to answer any of his texts. She also finds excuses not to be in her room when he is there with Reagan.

As the end of the semester approaches, Cather worries about her father. He is not answering her phone calls and has a bi-polar disorder. Another blow comes when her writing friend, Nick, tells her he is going to turn in the story they had been working on together for his final project in their writing class. He justifies this because he has worked on it outside of the time they spent on it together in the library. Although she is angry, she runs back to her dorm room without telling him. She spends hours trying to write her own story, but ends up falling asleep.

A phone call from her father’s co-worker wakes her up. Her father has been admitted to the hospital after one of his manic episodes. Cather calls Wren, who says they should wait until they take their finals to visit; after all, he will be medicated for several days.

Desperate for a ride to Omaha, Cather calls Levi. He immediately leaves work to pick her up. As they wait at the hospital, Cather finally tells Levi she saw him kissing another girl. Although Levi tries to explain that it meant nothing, he makes the situation worse. Cather asks him to leave when she is finally allowed in to see her dad.

Cather stays in Omaha to clean the house, do laundry and prepare for her father’s return. He and Wren arrive home just before Christmas. Although they try not to fight, she and Wren have a huge argument when Wren says she is going to spend Christmas Eve with their mother. Once the holiday is over, Cather admits to her father that she does not want to return to the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. He makes a deal with her. She will return for the spring semester and can quit after that, if she is still unhappy.

Cather speaks to her advanced-fiction professor, who has given her an incomplete for not turning in her last story. Cather wants to take a D, but the professor convinces her to take a chance and try writing the final story. Levi returns, apologizing for everything, and begging for a second chance with their relationship. Cather agrees to both of them.

Cather and Levi take their relationship slow for several weeks, as Cather does not want to get hurt again. Levi is at home one weekend when Cather receives a call from her mother. She is with Wren at a hospital in Lincoln. Wren was dropped off, unconscious, with alcohol poisoning. In the waiting room, Cather talks with her mother for the first time in 10 years, but she has no forgiveness to give her.

After a doctor comes out to tell them that Wren is still unconscious but expected to make a full recovery, their mother goes home without seeing her, leaving a furious Cather to wait alone. Later, when Wren is released, Cather is surprised to find Levi in the waiting room. He drove back to Lincoln to make sure Wren was going to be OK. Cather and Wren make up after her sister’s hospitalization.

Cather and Levi’s relationship intensifies, and it gives Cather new confidence in herself and the future. She is surprised to find Nick outside her dorm room one night. His story has been selected for publication in the school’s prestigious literary journal, but only if he gets Cather’s permission to print it and gives her co-author credit. With Levi, Wren and Reagan by her side, Cather refuses to grant him her permission.

Invigorated by her newfound courage, Cather throws herself into writing her fanfiction story. She is desperate to finish it before the final novel is released, but when Levi finds out she has devoted all her time to that, and none to writing a story for her advanced-fiction teacher, he gets angry. She is throwing away an opportunity that he would kill for, and possibly ruining her chance to keep her scholarship.

They have a major argument but make up soon afterward. His words make Cather realize there is more to life than Simon Snow. She sits down and writes a story based on her own life, beginning after her mother left. The story wins the underclassman fiction prize and is published in the university’s literary journal.

Christian Beliefs

Christian groups called for a boycott of Simon Snow novels after one included an exorcism scene. Reagan was raised in a conservative town but likes to thumb her nose at its values. She does not believe in God, but makes comments about how God put her in Cather’s life to keep her from making dumb decisions, such as wearing a tail clipped onto her hair.

Levi’s mother is active in her Baptist church. She belongs to a prayer circle. Cather and Wren’s dad says he is going King Solomon on them, but they do not get the reference because their mother wanted to raise them without religion. Cather says the ultimate romantic heroes die at the end of their stories, like Jesus.

Other Belief Systems

Reagan tells Cather to move her (Reagan’s) boxes to the other side of the dorm room if she has any feng shui issues. Levi says he is from God’s country, but he means that Odin and Brahma would like it, too. Nick calls Cather his lucky penny. A writing teacher says that writing is making something from nothing, like god or a mother. The professor says that she is god over things like grades.

Both the actual Simon Snow novels and Carry On, the fanfiction Cather writes, are set in a world of magic and mythical creatures, such as vampires. It is obviously based on a world similar to Harry Potter’s. Characters cast spells by using common phrases like “Olly olly oxen free.”

Authority Roles

Cather and Wren’s mother abandoned the family when they were 8. The emotional wounds affected the girls differently, with Cather becoming anxiety ridden and introverted, while Wren acted out and later became a partier. Their father, while loving and trying to support them, suffers from a bi-polar disorder. He has medication, but does not like to take it because it stifles his creativity. When the girls are home, they can keep him balanced. When they go away, he drifts into a manic episode, in which he does not leave his office or eat.


God’s name is used alone and with oh and d--n. Jesus’ name is used as an exclamation as well as Christ’s sake. The f-word is used repeatedly and in various parts of speech. A-- is used alone and with hole. S--- is used alone and with horse. B--tch and b--tard are also used. Other objectionable words are eff, effing, limp d--k, douche, sucks, crap and geez. The acronym FUBAR is also used.

Wren’s boyfriend, Jandro, punches a drunk in the bar who makes rude comments to Wren and Cather.

In Cather’s fanfiction, Baz is a vampire. She describes a scene in which he and Simon fight a giant, possessed rabbit. After the rabbit throws Simon across the room, Baz latches onto its throat and drains its blood. When he is done drinking, he looks as if he has bathed in a tub of blood. In Cather’s story, vampires attacked a nursery of children in order to make more of their kind. Baz’s mother tried to save him and the other children by throwing fire at them, but there were too many, and she was killed.


Cather and Wren talk about Cather’s old boyfriend. Cather kissed him several times, but there was never any passion between them. Her first kisses with Levi are drowsy and intimate, but they fall asleep before anything happens. As their relationship grows, their kisses become more intense and passionate. They take each other’s shirts off while they kiss. Nothing else is detailed, but Cather wakes up in Levi’s bed.

Wren had sex with her last boyfriend in high school. A drunk boy in a bar makes rude comments to Wren and Cather, calling them hot and wanting to buy them drinks until they start to make out together. He tells a friend that twins are his fantasy. Levi tries to defend their honor and calls the boy a pervert who probably masturbates to videos.

Cather’s mom told her before she left that she never wanted to have children, let alone twins. She did not want Cather and Wren to make her mistakes. Cather tells Levi she was not sure if that meant to use condoms or stay away from men who do not know how condoms work.

Cather’s Simon Snow fanfiction is a love story between two males, Simon and his roommate/enemy, Baz. The two admit their love for each other and share several emotionally intimate, but not graphic, moments.

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Alcohol: College life and the prevalent alcohol abuse are evident throughout. Underage drinking is easy to do and accepted. Wren gets drunk several times, is allowed into a bar and is hospitalized for alcohol poisoning. Even then, she refuses to believe she has a problem with alcohol. It is only when her father threatens to take her out of school that she agrees not to drink and to come home on the weekends.

Tobacco: Reagan is introduced with an unlit cigarette in her mouth.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

13 to 18


Rainbow Rowell






Record Label



St. Martin’s Press, a division of Macmillan Publishers


On Video

Year Published



Chapters Indigo Best of the Year, 2013; NYTBR Notable Children's BOTY, 2013; YALSA-College Bound / Lifelong Learners, 2014; and others


We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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