Check out our episode here! Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Fall Semester 2011
The Simon Snow series of books is written by Gemma T. Leslie. Simon, an orphan from Lancashire, attends Watford School of Magicks to become a magician. Throughout his time at school, Simon, his friends and roommate Baz fight the Insidious Humdrum who is trying to rid the world of magic. The series is a worldwide huge success, garners massive media attention and a devoted fandom. The eighth and final book, Simon Snow and the Eighth Dance, is due to be released May 1, 2012.
Cather, or Cath, has just started college. She doesn't like change or the unexpected, so when she finds a boy in her dorm room she is thrown for a loop. He is apparently a friend of her roommate Reagan, who bursts into the room, tells her she can move her stuff if she wants and drags the boy from the room to go eat. Cath didn’t want to share a room with a stranger, she took it for granted she would be sharing with her twin Wren. Wren on the other hand had different ideas and saw the change as a time to forge individual identities and started making friends with her roommate Courtney weeks ago. This is not going to be an easy transition for Cath.
That first morning Cath shoots her boyfriend Abel a quick text when she wakes up. Reagan isn’t home, but even with the room to herself everything feels off and she doesn’t feel brave enough to face the dining hall or the new situational rules it brings, so a protein bar it is then. Before going to class, Cath checks her FanFixx account. There are a bunch of new comments on her page, but she doesn't have time to reply to them all, so she shoots a generic apology and heads to class. When she returns, starving, the same boy from the day before is camped outside waiting for Reagan and he introduces himself as Levi. Cath won’t let him in her room, she doesn’t know him and she’s tired of all the new and other already.
In Professor Piper’s Fiction-Writing class, Cath notices everyone has a buzz of excitement. An actual published author would be teaching them. Professor Piper, though petite, walks with confidence and self-assurance, and she opens class with the question, “Why do we write fiction?” For Cath, it’s to be somewhere else, to get free of ourselves, to stop, to stop being anything or anywhere at all. To disappear.
Back in her room, Cath finds the dorm room stifling, impersonal and prison-like, not conducive to writing her Simon fanfic at all. Sharing with Reagan is not like sharing with Wren. Wren was part of the room, Reagan is a force of personality. Even walking around the communal areas, Cath feels like an intruder. A hungry intruder! She’s living on protein bars as she’s too scared to find the food hall, and constantly thinking about her boyfriend Abel’s grandma’s cooking isn’t helping. She meets Wren for lunch on occasion, but it makes her really uncomfortable because Courtney is there and they aren’t kind about the Simon Snow fanfic which Wren used to be really into. Even the subject of Abel isn’t safe as Wren insists that she wants Cath to be with someone she actually wants to kiss. On top of this, Wren just wants to talk about parties. She's not the same twin she used to be.
Cath hides in the background constantly and she doesn’t talk to anyone. One day when she’s being harassed by the squirrels for her protein bar, a boy from her Fiction-Writing class, Nick, talks to her about their latest assignment. Adding to the weirdness, later on Reagan asks if she has an eating disorder and Cath has to admit that she doesn't know where the food hall is because she hasn’t looked. Reagan calls Cath out for not asking because asking about basic needs is not bothersome! Reagan takes Cath to the food hall and it turns out to be a perfectly normal place with no weird rules and decent food, and Reagan turns out to be a perfectly normal person who has an engaging, if a little brash, personality. Might they be acquaintances now, or even friends?
When Cath comes back to the dorm room a few days later, Levi is there and begs her not to make him wait in the hall again and Cath relents. Levi is a naturally happy guy who has a smile for everyone and treats people like they’ve been friends for years. This is really helpful at his job in Starbucks, but is disconcerting to Cath. She just wants to ignore him and study and write fanfic. Going to college and working on her Simon Snow fiction is getting hard. Her creativity seems stifled and her time is scant. Her story, Carry On, Simon is a huge success and she can’t respond to all the comments. Cath and her fans are treating it like it’s the eighth Simon book. It’s already longer than most of Gemma T. Leslie’s, and she won’t rest until she has the story written.
In Fiction-Writing one day, Nick turns to Cath and asks her to be his writing partner for a story they have to write together as an assignment. They plan to meet in the library at night since Nick works there, which is surprising to Reagan who thought Cath would be too wary of going out after dark. Levi, being a gentleman, walks her to the library. On the way Levi tells Cath he is from a small town called Arnold and regales her with stories of buffalo. Before he leaves her, Levi tells Cath to let him know when she’s done so he can walk her back. In the library Nick is waiting. He wants to use his notebook to write down their ideas rather than using a laptop, ostensibly so they can see the ideas switching between them as they build their story. The exercise is fun and brought back memories of working on the Simon fic with Wren, but Nick isn’t Wren.
Over the next few days, Cath keeps leaving voicemails for their dad, each one more demanding that he call her back. Cath is worried because he has a history of mental illness and can get lost in the frantic, hyperactive creativity that comes from his job in marketing. This is detrimental to his sleeping and eating habits and his rational thought. On Friday night while she is working on Carry On, Simon, Cath remembers how well received her and Nick’s story was and wants to share it with someone. She calls Wren, who is drunk, and when Cath says she wants to talk boy stuff, Wren instantly jumps to Simon and Baz related conclusions, and mocks Cath before hanging up on her. This makes Cath both mad and upset. Simon and Baz were meant to be untouchable. Her mood stays down the whole weekend and she ignores Wren’s calls. When Cath’s sad hermit routine starts to creep Reagan out, she forces her to go bowling with her and Levi. She has actual fun but draws the line at going to a bar after. Back in her room, she checks on her dad again then works on Carry On.
Abel’s name pops up on Cath’s phone later which is strange because he never calls... they don’t talk! Well, it’s not a happy phone call, it’s a breakup call. Abel has met someone else and wants to have an actual relationship with an actual person. Cath doesn’t really have any strong reaction to this and Wren, when she visits her later, points out she never really liked him anyway because they never really had a relationship. He gave her a power cord as a gift! As the sisters are talking, Reagan and Levi barrel in and are stunned, Cath has a twin sister! And Levi calls Wren “super hot” which Cath is offended by, taking it that he is implying Cath is the ugly one.
Cath falls into the pattern of working with Nick in the library until midnight and sitting very close to him. When she meets Wren, it's all parties and boy talk and Cath is starting to notice things... Boy things. Guys, everywhere, seriously everywhere! Even Levi is a distraction. Subject change! Cath points out to Wren that their dad misses them, he seems fine, but misses them so Cath plans a visit home to Omaha. As she’s waiting for her ride, Cath walks around downtown Lincoln, popping into a Starbucks where Levi just happens to be working. They chat and he makes her a special coffee (Pumpkin Mocha Breve, light on the mocha) and she leaves. When she gets home, things aren’t great. Her dad is in the throes of one of his hyper-periods. His explanations are disjointed and frantic, he’s not focusing fully or looking after himself as well as he could, papers are strewn everywhere and the living room looks like chaos. To assert some normalcy, they head to a taco truck and Cath tries to instill a routine over the weekend. Surprisingly, Cath’s dad admits to having been talking to their mom who left them when she and Wren were only 8 years old on 9/11. The 9/11. She wants to reconnect. Cath will have none of it and is doubly surprised to hear Wren is considering it. She challenges Wren back at school and both are defensive of their positions regarding reconnecting.
To add to Cath’s angst, Professor Piper returned a writing assignment about unreliable narrators and told Cath she had plagiarized as she had turned in Simon Snow fan fiction. Cath tried to argue her position, but the Professor was clear that the character and world were not her intellectual property, so she's a thief. Professor Piper believes Cath can do better and has stories of her own to tell, but Cath doesn’t believe this nor does she want to. She wants to stay in Simon's world. This calls for an Emergency Kanye Party which is interrupted by Levi walking in, however Levi just joins in. Reagan, on the other hand, is stunned when she comes home later to find the two dancing on the beds like lunatics. As they catch their breath, Cath gets a 911 text from Wren. She’s at Muggsy’s, a bar on East Campus. Since Cath didn’t know about the dining hall, she certainly doesn’t know there is an East Campus so Levi drives her over.
It turns out to be a false alarm. Wren is totally wasted and sent the 911 text to the wrong person, and it wasn’t because she’s in trouble, it's because there’s a cute boy one of her friends likes in the bar. Stop killing the buzz, Cath. Leaving Wren in the “capable” hands of her friends, Levi takes Cath to a truck-stop diner that serves the best corned beef hash to cool off and calm down. They sit and chat for a bit and Cath relaxes into the conversation admitting what Professor Piper said about the fan fiction. Levi doesn’t really understand, but he sympathizes and offers the reassurance she needs.
When Cath is next waiting for her Fiction-Writing class to start, rebelliously reading fanfiction, Courtney walks by and asks about the cute blonde she saw her with. That’s only Levi! Thankfully Nick interrupts, moaning about his last assignment being “overly slick and impenetrable," but he's hopeful about a teaching assistantship in the advanced class next semester. Yeah well, her feedback was worse. Back in the dorm room, Levi pops by when Reagan isn’t there and Cath lets him in. They talk more about her writing fanfiction and Levi persuades her to read some to him until Reagan returns.
Cath isn’t trying to make friends, but she accidentally starts hanging out with people. They start off as study groups or routinely seeing people but evolve (devolve depending on point of view) into friendly conversation but never spread into her personal life. On the other hand, Wren’s social calendar explodes. Levi however keeps making an effort, always asking Cath to join and to go to parties at his off campus student house, which inevitably Cath turns down. One day Levi comes to her dorm room looking for Reagan to help with a book assignment because he isn’t a book person and needs her to tell him what happened. Instead, Cath is there alone and Levi is able to persuade her to read more of her fanfiction until Reagan arrives.
The day before Thanksgiving, Cath’s dad comes to pick the twins up, and Courtney comes along and takes Cath’s usual seat in the back with Wren (insert jealousy here). After they drop Courtney off, their dad asks what time their mom is picking Wren up. What?! Cath is not happy. So, the rest of the car journey is really awkward and the fight continues over the weekend and worsens when Wren doesn’t make it back for Thanksgiving dinner.
Back at campus, Levi is standing outside the dorm door again, Cath is happy to see him so she lets him in. Levi isn’t his usual happy self, he’s anxious and frustrated. Reagan was supposed to help him study. Levi reveals he isn’t a book person because he struggles to read and he has study partners who help him out, including Reagan. Who isn’t there. So Cath offers to read the book to him and does so for hours. Things start to get snuggly on the bed and eventually one thing leads to another and Cath is being properly kissed by her roommate's boyfriend until they both fall asleep. They wake up when the door is slammed shut and find Reagan standing at the bottom of the bed. Awkward. Levi books it out of there since he’s late for work and Cath just stammers out apologies. Erm, Cath, he isn’t Reagan’s boyfriend, he was once but she cheated on him and besides, that was a long time ago. As soon as Reagan has showered she’ll be over the shock. And she is! She also explains to a crying Cath that Levi has liked Cath for ages so really it doesn’t come as a surprise. Now, should we go to lunch? Cath really likes Levi. So much so she’s willing to go to a party at his house Friday night with Reagan. Unfortunately when she gets there, she sees Levi kissing some blonde in the kitchen and has to leave, pronto. Well, shit.
It's more than a week before Cath sees Levi again and it’s kinda awkward, well for Cath anyway, because Levi is clueless. She continues on with classes, leaving voicemails for her dad and meeting Nick in the library. She’s done some heavy storyboarding, edits, and rewrites and he’s wanting to submit the work as being under his authorship. Cath knows it’s wrong but backs down when Nick gets insistent that he started it, he finished it, he worked on it outside the library so Cath lets the matter drop. All the time though, Cath is pining for Levi.
As finals week starts, Cath still hasn’t written her final Fiction-Writing assignment. One night she falls asleep in the attempt only to be woken by her dad’s work colleague and friend, Kelly. Her dad has been admitted to St. Richard’s hospital for his mental health. In a panic, Cath drops everything to go to her dad. The only person available to drive her to Omaha at such short notice, and in finals week, is Levi. Levi asks no questions, just drives Cath to the hospital and sits and waits with her for hours until they let Cath see her dad and Levi is gone when she leaves.
Back at her family home, Cath spends hours tidying the mess and putting the house to rights, constantly thinking that this wouldn’t have happened if she or Wren had been there. When she got in touch with Wren, Wren explained that she didn’t see the need to drop everything in finals week to come see their dad who was being well looked after in the hospital. Wren advises Cath to get in touch with her professors to let them know about finals and to defer her Fiction-Writing assignment that she still hasn't started yet. Yeah, she’ll get right on that… spoilers, she doesn’t. This isn’t the first time their dad has had a hospital stay, and Cath is convinced that she will have episodes like their dad and usually Wren talks her through this. Now, Wren isn’t here and Cath can’t think of anything to say to her sister.
After a few days, Cath’s dad is released and Wren comes home for Christmas. They fall into a pattern of Wren going out to see friends, staying out all night and Cath declining any invites because she has to look after their dad, despite his assurances that the medication is working and when he comes off that, he'll start jogging every day. Cath and Wren inevitably have another argument because Wren will be visiting their mom and her family over the holiday. Cath was prepared for the news, but she isn’t prepared for Wren to blame her for doing everything by herself. Neither sister can see the other's point of view. On Christmas morning, under a photograph of the three of them standing next to a Christmas tree (they forgot to get a real one), there is a present for Cath from their mom which she refuses to accept. She blames their mom for breaking their dad’s heart and mind, for not wanting to be their mom, for leaving and ignoring them, for screwing her up. Cath doesn’t want any part of her to come back into their life now that it’s convenient for her.
After a few days, Cath tells her dad she’s not going back to school. Her dad tells her that under no circumstances is she to stop her life to look after him, he’s doing well and plans to do better, and she can’t squander her life and her scholarship. They have a few more discussions and her dad won’t budge. Ultimately, when Wren is dropped off at school, Cath steps out of the car with her.
Spring Semester, 2012
Sitting in her room with Reagan, Cath is looking at her grade sheet, Fiction-Writing says ‘inc,’ meaning incomplete. She never submitted her final assignment and never got in touch with Professor Piper to discuss the family emergency. Cath was expecting a C or a D, not ‘incomplete.' Really, she never had any intention of submitting it because writing her own fiction just isn’t her thing. She wants to write about Simon and Baz and get lost in GTL’s world, not build her own from scratch. It takes a lot of effort for Cath to go and see Professor Piper and when she does, she is too stunned to be articulate. Professor Piper sees a lot of potential in Cath, she wants her in her Advanced Fiction program, she wanted her to be her teaching assistant but since she didn’t submit her assignment, Nick is. Professor Piper is going to give Cath an unprecedented second chance to complete the course and write her own story. They will meet regularly over the semester and they can discuss her progress. Cath tells her she will think about it. THIS NEVER HAPPENS.
Levi is in his usual spot by their door in the hallway waiting for Cath. He’s come to confess that he lied to her before Christmas. When he drove her to the hospital to see her dad, Cath had called him out for kissing the blonde in his kitchen and Levi had said that both Cath's and the blonde’s kiss were just a kiss, but that was a lie. Their kiss meant something. Levi has liked her for a long time, really liked her and wanted the kiss to be a start of something between them. Cath is flustered. She wants it but doesn’t know if she can trust Levi, plus Levi is super hot and Cath’s mind is wandering. If they take it slow, Cath is willing to try. Levi’s smile devours his face.
To calm Cath, as she seems skittish, Levi asks her to read him more of her fanfiction. When she finishes, to add to the sexiness of the situation, Cath asks about Levi and Reagan’s past relationship. They were from a very small town, dated for three years in high school, she cheated on him and it took a while for him to talk to her again and now they’re friends. They make plans to go out the next night, and though Cath desperately wants to tell Wren about her date, she doesn’t. Instead she studies and stays up late writing fanfic. Reagan is very supportive of Cath and Levi, though she imposes rules: 1) Nobody talks to her about sex, 2) no lovey-dovey stuff in front of her, 3) nobody talks to her about their relationship, and 4) no jealousy. They are both her friends, she wants the best for them, but she needs boundaries! Reagan will however help Cath get ready for their date.
Levi takes her to East Campus and they visit the gardens which at night are beautiful and they talk about Levi’s family. He has a bevy of sisters, his mom can only be described as dominant and his dad works their ranch. From then on, they see each other every day until it seems Levi has always been part of her day but they don't seem to do much else but talk and nothing changes in their interactions with each other. Though Cath can study with Levi there, she can’t write her fanfiction with him sitting in the room because she gets too lost in him. They never go to his room either. Cath can’t handle it, it seems too grown-up, but she keeps having fantasies of tackling Levi and rolling around in the daisies with him. Levi, the big sweetie he is, even offers to drive her home to Omaha so she can visit her dad that weekend. Beforehand though, Cath has made up her mind about Professor Piper’s AMAZING AND WOULD NEVER HAPPEN OFFER and needs to talk to her. She’s going to tell her, thank you but no thank you. That, however, does not happen. Instead Cath comes away with an agreement to meet again in a few weeks with a progress update.
On the way back to Omaha, the weather has turned really bad, Levi should not be driving in such treacherous icy conditions, but he does because it’s important to Cath that she sees her dad. Thankfully they make the journey safely, but it’s too bad for Levi to go straight back so he spends the night on the couch. Levi is a complete hit with Cath’s dad, who asks Cath if she’s still in a hurry to drop out (wink, wink). It was a good weekend of fish tacos, time with her dad and 5000 words of Carry On written.
Levi is going home to visit his family, and this is perfect for Cath as it means she can get some writing done, but not Professor Piper’s assignment, or one of her other classes. She gets really into Carry On since her rhythm has been off spending so much time with her boyfriend. Not kissing by the way, though she does think about it. As she’s sitting down Friday night to start writing, Cath receives a phone call from Wren, except it’s not Wren calling, it’s their mom. Wren is in the hospital getting her stomach pumped and being treated for alcohol poisoning. Cath calls Reagan who takes her to the hospital, and when she gets there, her mom is in the waiting room. They have a strained but civil conversation. Her mom has already contacted their dad who is on his way, then they sit in silence. Eventually, they’re allowed to see Wren, but their mom doesn’t go back and instead she leaves.
Wren doesn't remember what happened and doesn’t know who dropped her off at the hospital. A short time after their dad gets to the hospital, Wren is discharged. Waiting in the reception is Levi and someone Cath met during the 911 fiasco, Alejandro. It seems Wren also has a boyfriend. Their dad is concerned for Wren until they get home. He wants Wren to stop drinking completely and come back home. Obviously Wren objects to this and it takes a few days, but she's able to persuade him to let her go back to school at least. Cath, however, is tired of being mad at Wren. They realize they’ve missed each other and that they need to try harder. They talk about Simon and Baz, which should be safe common ground, but when Wren finds out Cath is thinking about killing Baz, she needs to plan an intervention!
Back at school, Cath formally meets Alejandro and he seems really nice. Levi doesn’t come back until the evening and Cath is getting ready for bed, but Levi is able to persuade Cath to finally come to his house! He introduces her as his girlfriend to everyone and then leads her to his den of iniquity, and it’s awful! His room is at the highest point of the house, practically in the trees and practically enchanted. Oh no! Levi asks Cath to read him more of her fanfiction because he knows it will relax her as she is a bundle of raw nerves, though Cath thought they were there to do stuff, she agrees because she really does need to calm down. As Cath reads, Levi moves closer and starts to gently touch her, but when the story ends he wants her to keep going. When Cath is reading, she lets him touch her. At this realization, Cath drops her phone and touches him back. A lot.
Cath and Wren have started healing their relationship so when Wren returns to school there is no worry or trepidation about calling or texting each other. They’re hanging out together more as a foursome with Levi and Alejandro. They’ve talked about their mom and have come to an understanding that Wren will have contact, but Cath wants nothing to do with her. Wren even offers to beta read for Cath like she used to. The eighth Simon book is due out in only six weeks, and Cath needs to be finished with Carry On by then and not kill Baz. Cath has an outline for the last bit and it’s okay. What Cath hasn’t been working on is THE INCREDIBLE OPPORTUNITY PROFESSOR PIPER GAVE HER. Cath lies straight to Professor Piper’s face, telling her she has started working on it.
A few days later, Cath and Wren are arguing about some small detail in the latest Simon installment Cath has written when she spots Nick standing outside her room. Reagan, who is inside, made him wait there, but opens the door to find out why he is pestering Cath. Nick needs to have a private conversation, but Cath invites him to discuss it openly in the hall in front of Wren and Reagan, and now Levi who has just turned up. It turns out the story he and Cath wrote together is going to be printed in a prestigious journal but Professor Piper knows Cath helped write it and won’t allow the publication unless they are co-authored. Nick is begging Cath to agree, she can even be named first, but he is really smarmy about it and a bit of a prick. Cath declines any credit telling him he can have it all, it is, as he said, his story. Nick gets angry and tells Cath he lost his teaching assistantship because of her and needs this opportunity but Cath steps away and into her room with her friends, leaving Nick in the hall. As Reagan said, “What a douche.”
Later, Levi drops Wren at Alejandro’s frat house, he takes Cath home. Cath offers to make Levi an omelet and while she does so, Levi asks Cath why Wren doesn't like him. Cath is forced to admit that it’s not that Wren doesn’t like him, it's that he called Wren hot, which makes her want to keep Wren away from him. Levi has to explain that he was trying to indirectly compliment her. Obviously, this is not something Cath would pick up on. Well, one thing leads to another, and Cath confesses her love and needs to make Levi a fresh omelet.
Cath and Wren are planning to go to the drawing-ever-closer-midnight release of The Eighth Dance back in Omaha, and Levi is coming and wants to go in costume. Cath is focused on getting Carry On, Simon finished before the release date and won’t be distracted. She’s so close to the end, her end. Wren had even taken to handling her comments helping Cath to focus, though she was barely keeping up with her classes. Levi however, can tempt Cath into taking intermissions from writing (wink, wink). As Wren and Cath are walking back to Cath’s room, Wren asks Cath if she'd like to room together next year. Cath can’t, Reagan already asked, and she said yes. She thinks they’re best friends.
Cath has been writing for hours when Levi stops by. He asks if she has been submitting her Fiction-Writing assignment piece by piece or waiting until it’s all done, but Cath confesses she has actually been working on Carry On, Simon instead. Levi knows she’s been working on that, but wants to know about her assignment. Yeah… she’s not going to do it. Levi points out she has her whole life to finish Carry On, but only a couple of weeks to submit her assignment. Cath realizes that Levi just doesn’t understand. Levi points out that he has to fight for every grade he gets and that he’d kill for the second chance she has been given and is squandering. Frustrated, Levi leaves. Cath feels that she needs to finish Carry On before The Eighth Dance comes out. She wants her ending to be THE ending. Gemma T. Leslie will get the last word, turning Cath’s story into an alternate universe, but for a short time Cath will have the last word and Simon’s story will end how she wants it to.
After this, Cath doesn’t write a word, she cries into her pillow instead. When she leaves to grab a drink, Cath finds Levi sitting outside her door. He confesses to being an idiot and apologizes, and Cath admits that she’s been acting crazy. Levi encourages her to finish, and then Cath puts her lips on Levi and her hands in his jacket.
Now it’s time for the midnight release of The Eighth Dance. Levi is bouncing with excitement and is wearing a Simon and Baz t-shirt which Cath finds very attractive. Wren keeps telling him to calm down, the big nerd. Even Reagan is there, but less enthusiastic. Once the blue boxes with stars come out and the bookseller waves her wand, it takes only a few minutes before Cath has a book nearly three inches thick and in a dust jacket that feels like velvet. Suddenly Wren is holding Cath and they are both hugging and crying. It’s over, Cath whispers. Wren tells Cath to stop being melodramatic, it’s never over. It’s Simon.
It’s the last Friday of semester, Cath has a boy in her bed, and a completed Fiction-Writing assignment submitted. So far they have both managed to avoid Simon spoilers, though it’s been tough. Cath will read out loud to Levi the whole weekend if she has to. Settling into his arms, she opens the book and reads.