The young adult novel Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell is one of the ultimate comfort books of all time.
Following the protagonist Cather Avery as she navigates being a freshman in university, college dating, and being apart from her twin sister for the first time, Rowell manages to describe the universal experience of stepping into young adulthood in a way that makes you feel like you’re talking to a close friend.
In fact, a detail that’s hard to miss is just how casually Rowell integrates mental illness into the lives of her characters: Cather struggles with anxiety, her twin sister, Wren, is heavily dependent on alcohol, and their father is later revealed to have bipolar disorder.
Despite this, Fangirl manages to capture the severity and depth of mental illness without being too heavy, and more importantly, without falling into the trope of making it a character’s entire personality.
I found this aspect of the story not only unusually refreshing but also realistic (especially in terms of fiction.) Mental illness is extremely common, and according to this website, almost one in three Canadians will experience some form of it within their lifetimes.
Accordingly, those with mental illness are completely normal, everyday people like the rest of the population with their own interests, aspirations, and personality traits that are more than just being a Professional Mentally Ill Person. In this sense, there is no excuse for lazy writing in regards to making the entirety of a character solely their mental illness.
For example, even though there are rough patches (Cather’s anxiety is so bad she goes weeks without going to the dining hall, Wren’s reckless partying makes her end up in the hospital with alcohol poisoning, and their father has a severe manic episode in their absence), it is far from their defining moments.
In fact, Cath’s anxiety becomes the least interesting thing about her. She finishes writing the most popular Simon Snow fanfiction of all time, overcomes her social anxiety to enter a relationship with Levi, and later conquers her writer’s block. and her piece wins the Prairie Schooner award.
At the end of the day, the novel Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell further emphasizes the importance of presenting mental illness in a way that is both accurate and shows that people are more than their disorders.