There is a huge difference between being a fan of something and being a “fangirl.”  A casual fan might read all the books in a series, or see all the movies and could tell you their favorite part. A fangirl (which by the way, is almost a gender-neutral term) definitely read every book in the series at least five times, saw the midnight premiere of all of the movies, and spent way too much time psycho-analyzing their favorite character’s every breath.

You might think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. Once you take your first tentative steps into “fandom,” there’s no returning to normal existence.

Maybe you have no idea what I’m talking about. Maybe you know exactly what I mean, but haven’t experienced this for yourself. But then there are a few of us (myself included) who already fell off that metaphorical ledge into fandom.

No matter where you fall on this spectrum, Rainbow Rowell’s novel “Fangirl” provides an interesting look at the life of a fangirl as she begins her college years.

It’s a story of finding yourself in a new situation without giving up the things that you held dear while you were younger. It’s about change, new friends, and balancing that first semester of college with an almost-daily posting schedule of a fanfiction epic.

The protagonist of “Fangirl,” Cath, has just begun this struggle.

Cath thought she would be fine at the beginning of college. She moved away for school with her more extroverted twin sister, who decided, without telling Cath about it, that she doesn’t want to be roommates anymore. Cath is forced into a new living situation, complete with an upperclassman roommate and her apparent boyfriend, and not enough space to hang her posters.

Like many of us during our first semester, Cath doesn’t know how to act around people, or what to do in her free time. At first, instead of branching out, Cath spends more time online involved in the Simon Snow fandom, a group of people who love the magical adventures of the young wizard and his vampire best friend. (According to the author, the series was supposed to be a nod to the Harry Potter fandom, which heavily influenced young adults in the early 2000s.)

Eventually, Cath learns a lot about what it takes to make new and lasting friendships, how to manage her relationship with her father and sister, and go to class, all while still having a fandom experience. It takes time, effort and many late night trips to a local diner, but Cath acclimates and becomes successful, both in real-life and online.

As fandom culture seeps more and more into mainstream culture thanks to popular sites like Buzzfeed and Tumblr, “Fangirl” provides an interesting look at how these people really act. Though we might get ridiculously excited over new books or movies, fangirls are not vapid, shallow or solely obsessed with attractive actors.

Being part of a fandom means a lot to many people, and has inspired them to go after their dreams and ambitions to help make the world better and more accepting. Many fans devote themselves to pioneering social causes and raise tremendous amounts of money for charity every year.

The next time you’re shopping, take a look at “Fangirl.” Even if you’re not involved in a fandom or just think we’re kind of crazy, it’s a great read about growing up while keeping your past a part of your life. And if you are a fangirl like me, it’s a great novel about our community, both online and in real-life.