Mental Health Through the Lens of How Many Times I've Read "Fangirl"

The novel Fangirl, written by Rainbow Rowell, has held a special place on my bookshelf ever since the first time I read it. The story follows Cath who is a first-year college student full of anxiety and awkward tendencies. Her love for the fictional book series, Simon Snow, and the fan fiction she writes is what keeps her afloat during her first year of college. As the novel progresses, we watch Cath encounter new people and stressful situations while also trying to balance her troubling home life of having a mentally ill father and a reckless twin sister. Overall, this book is a perfect read for any college freshman.

However, the first time I read Fangirl was when I was in the seventh grade. Now, I have reread it about a million times, and it has become a comfort read for whenever I am sad or anxious. Regardless, as I now find myself in the same shoes as Cath, I am able to look back on how much I have grown since the first time I read Fangirl.

Throughout middle school, I had a few good friends that enjoyed reading, so we would constantly swap books and recommend new novels for each other. That is how I first crossed paths with Cath and the Simon Snow universe. Within the first few chapters, I was hooked, but not for the obvious reasons, like plotline or dialogue. Rather, I was hooked onto Cath. I found myself analyzing everything she did and soon had the realization: Wow this is me!

For those of you who have never read Fangirl, Cath has various clear symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. However, when I was in middle school, I had no idea what that was. For me, Cath was a role model. I saw myself in every aspect of her. Her fear of society and new situations was something I often suffered with. The moments when she would wake up at night and roam her house looking for intruders or fire were things I did all the time. Feeling like the “cry baby” and the weak link in her family was one of my childhood struggles too. Her intense fear of people leaving her was probably the biggest worry my 13-year-old brain had. I could go on forever, but the point is that Cath had anxiety, and although I did not know what that was at the time, I had it too.

Now, as I am about to finish my first year of college, I realize that I am not like Cath anymore. All of those things I worried about or the small rituals I had to satisfy my anxious brain no longer overwhelm me. Fear and anxiety overtook my youth, but I finally regained control of my life. The first time I read Fangirl, I had no clue that Cath’s behaviors were unhealthy. I just saw her as someone who thought as I did. Her character made me feel “heard,” which was something I truly needed at the time. But now her character shows me something different. Whenever I find myself picking up Fangirl, I am reminded of how far I have come mentally.

With that in mind, I recognize that as a preteen, I should not have had to look elsewhere for these lessons. A novel should not have been the sole thing in my life that made my anxiety feel normal. Society and the world around me should have informed me that yes, anxiety is bad, but it isn’t unmanageable. We need to start having open conversations with our children about mental health, so not only that they are aware of it, but also that they feel less alone. Mental illness should not be a taboo subject because if it is, then our youth will suffer.