Poor Cath is still having a tough time adjusting, and the fact that college life seems to suit Wren perfectly doesn’t help at all. How brutal was that phone call? Cath has clearly interrupted something and Wren has no intention of including her. She’s being inside-jokey and weird and subtly cruel. Like, why did you even pick up the phone at all, Wren? GOD.
Probably because she always had Wren, Cath doesn’t seem to have any hometown friends she’s missing. Actually, we do hear about Abel the end table. Apparently they’ve been dating (“dating”) for three years, but according to Wren, Cath has “stronger feelings for Baz and Simon” than for Abel (35). If Abel is an end table, then what is Levi? Some kind of cool, kitschy lamp? A handmade afghan? I don’t know, but he’s sunny and pleasant and hard to ignore. Even though Levi is the first person she met at school, Cath’s first real college friend turns out to be the mysterious Reagan. Upon finding a trashcan full of evidence of Cath’s freaky eating habits, Reagan guides her into the world of dormitory dining and people-watching. I love that when she realizes the extent of Cath’s anxiety, she immediately checks that Cath has been going to class. So unexpectedly maternal. Another burgeoning friendship (and creative partnership) is with Nick, an older boy from her writing class. With just a few details, Rainbow tells us exactly who Nick is. Periwinkle wingtips. English major. We all knew this guy in college.
When Nick wants reassurance that his essay isn’t lame, Cath says “I’m not sure what you want me to say now” (37). She doesn’t get the cue to politely tell him that his dumb pen essay is actually great. It’s not surprising that she’s a little rusty, since her only real friendship has been with her sister, and sibling relationships don’t necessarily translate to great social skills. You can be ugly and moody and awful to your sister and she still has to love you. Cath is out of practice (or maybe completely inexperienced with) cultivating friendships with strangers. Like Cath, I would rather rest on a few fully broken-in, comfortable friendships than try to make new ones. Having just relocated (um, 5 months ago), leaving behind a city and friends I love, I identify with Cath in a way that I didn’t the first time I read Fangirl. I’m actually jealous of her situation though, because everyone is trying to make friends in college. You have to actively try not to make friends in the first weeks of freshman year, which is exactly what Cath is doing when she avoids eye contact with people on her hall and declines Levi’s invitation to Muggsy’s. She’s making progress though.
- I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight Anna’s favorite line, the physical description of Nick: “He looked like someone with a steerage ticket on the Titanic” (37). Amazing.
- Cath’s reaction to the idea that they might have to read their work aloud cracked me up. In my first college writing class, we had to do that every single week. I thought I would get used to it eventually, but, nope, it was just the worst from beginning to end. Once I asked if there would ever be a week where we could do our assignments without that pressure looming over us and the professor laughed at me.
- I picture Reagan as some kind of alternate universe Eleanor. She carries an unspecified number of extra pounds, she’s buxom, and she has awesome red hair. She’s not sweet, she’s sarcastic and snippy, but she’s still super lovable. Did anyone else’s mind go there?
One of my favorite college-set novels is Commencement by J. Courtney Sullivan. It’s about four freshmen–excuse me, freshpeople— at Smith College who meet on their dorm hall and become extremely close. Of course, the dynamics of their foursome shift throughout their college years and their bond is tested in what they call their “freshman year of life.” I have big problems with this book, but I can never stay mad at it. It’s one of only a few that I own and reread frequently, so there must be something right about it.