Fangirl (Rainbow Rowell)

Fangirl (Rainbow Rowell)Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Published by Macmillan on 10-09-2013
Genres: Contemporary, Girls & Women, New Adult, Young Adult
Pages: 448
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased

A coming-of-age tale of fan fiction, family and first love.

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan . . .But for Cath, being a fan is her life — and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to. Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?  Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

Plot: ★★★★
Characters: ★★★★★
Readability: ★★★★★

Cath and Wren are twin sisters, who until now have done everything together, including write hugely successful Simon Snow fanfiction.  Now that they’re going off to college though, Wren wants them to be a little more independent.  She’s slowly become less of a Simon Snow fangirl and she wants to go and have the college experience – and that doesn’t mean sharing a room with her twin.

While Wren bonds with her new roomate Courtney, settles in to the party lifestyle, and generally loves college so far, Cath is finding it a little harder to adjust.  She’s always been the quieter twin, and she’d really rather stay in her room and write than try to figure out the chaos that is the dining hall.  Not to mention that her roomate sort of seems to think she’s a freak, and that Cath is worried about her father, who’s alone for the first time and hasn’t always had the most stable mental health.

“There are other people on the Internet. It’s awesome. You get all the benefits of ‘other people’ without the body odor and the eye contact.”

Do you know how sometimes, a book just clicks with you, and you aren’t quite 100% sure why?  When you love a book, but can’t decide on the exact thing that takes it from a four or five star read to “Keep, recommend, re-read a thousand times” status?

When I first finished Fangirl, it was one of those books, but I think I’ve decided what it is that makes Fangirl a new favourite.  It’s not the plot, the characters, the romance or the writing (all of which I loved) – it’s the combination of those things, and the way that Rowell makes everything so easy to relate to.  I texted countless quotes from this to my partner and friends.  I want to buy everyone close to me a copy and say “THIS. THIS IS HOW MY BRAIN WORKS!”. 

Rainbow Rowell has managed to capture the fears of starting college perfectly.  She manages to include the little things like worrying about proper dining room protocol and the endless train of what ifs – like what if my roomate wants her boyfriend to stay here overnight?  On top of the little things, there are the bigger concerns, like her relationship with her sister, worrying about her father, and keeping up with both her work load and her Simon Snow stories.  And of course, there’s the romance!  Rowell has perfectly encapsulated Cath’s fears, and I think they’re something everyone (even those not as anxious as Cath) can understand.

“I’d rather pour myself into a world I love and understand than try to make something up out of nothing.”

The plot line is basically a coming-of-age story, with Cath adjusting to college, worrying that Wren is maybe adjusting a bit too enthusiastically, the twins’ relationship, their new love interests, and their’ father’s instability.  What really makes the story, is the characters.  Cath and Wren are very relatable, in totally different ways.  Although there will be times when one or the other baffles you (as their behaviour is sometimes pretty opposite, logic says you won’t always love both!), there will also be moments you can completely relate to.  Whether it’s hitting the party lifestyle or holing up in your bedroom, Rowell has captured the sometimes slightly skewed adjustment of first year students.

I freely admit, not only did I love Fangirl, but it also reminded me how much I love fanfiction, and being a crazy fangirl about the things that are important to me.  You know those quotes people always pin about being a geek? (You know the ones, the John Green and the Will Wheaton quotes and so on).  Fangirl is like an entire book that says the same things: that being enthusiastic is okay.  Not just okay in fact, but fun.  That being a geek makes you you, and the important people will understand if you absolutely need to go to a midnight release or spend hours reading every Game of Thrones conspiracy theory or whatever else it is you want to do to celebrate whatever you’re passionate about.


“What’s that thing you wrote about Simon once, that his eyes followed Baz ‘like he was the brightest thing in the room, like he cast everything else into shadow’? That’s you. You can’t look away from him.”

While I liked Eleanor and Park, I loved Fangirl. I loved the characters, the slow-building romance, the snippets of Simon Snow stories that made it feel like a real fandom.  I loved that Rowell had included sex, and partying hard, and plagiarism concerns, that the girls didn’t always get along perfectly and that Cath was anxious and geeky without being a pushover.   It’s never explicit, and yet it doesn’t shy away from those real concerns, those things that happen at college.  I think the reason Fangirl stands out, to me, is because it doesn’t feel like a cookie cutter version of something else; it’s unique, and it’s relatable.  It reads like it could literally be a story about one of the bloggers you follow.

Buy it? Definitely one worth buying – a new favourite.
In a nutshell: Fantastically relatable characters, a perfect reflection into starting college and the mind of a fangirl.

Other Reviews of Fangirl: Wondrous Reads | Daisy Chain Book Reviews | Recovering Potter Addict

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Eleanor & Park (Rainbow Rowell)

Eleanor & Park (Rainbow Rowell)Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
Published by Orion Books Limited on 1-2-2013
Genres: Fiction, General, Love & Romance
Pages: 336
Format: ebook
Source: NetGalley

“Bono met his wife in high school,” Park says.

“So did Jerry Lee Lewis,” Eleanor answers.

“I’m not kidding,” he says.

“You should be,” she says, “we’re 16.”

“What about Romeo and Juliet?”

“Shallow, confused, then dead.”

“I love you,” Park says.

“Wherefore art thou,” Eleanor answers.

“I’m not kidding,” he says.

“You should be.”

Set over the course of one school year in 1986, Eleanor & Park is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under.

Plot: ★★★
Characters: ★★★★★
Readability: ★★★★★

Eleanor & Park is one of those books I was hearing about for months, and then couldn’t resist reading out of curiosity.  I’m glad I did, because I ended up loving it.

Eleanor is the new girl.  With her curly red hair and a curvy figure, Eleanor stands out to everyone on her first day on the school bus, and no one moves over to let her sit down.  Eventually Park grudgingly lets her sit with him, though he’s decidedly unhappy about potentially disturbing the status quo.  In 1986, Park is the only half-Korean student, and although he seems to have found his place in the social hierachy (and it isn’t at the bottom) by letting Eleanor sit down he’s risking status he doesn’t have to spare.  Despite a less than amicable start, the two slowly go from pointed silences, to an unexpected friendship, and eventually a budding romance neither of them can quite understand.

“Holding Eleanor’s hand was like holding a butterfly. Or a heartbeat. Like holding something complete, and completely alive.”

Eleanor & Park is told in third person, from two alternating view points; his and hers.   Park is the more romantically minded of the two, whilst Eleanor is the more cynical and sarcastic.  Park has a pretty normal home life: a close family, parents that are still in love with each other but a slightly difficult relationship with his dad.  Eleanor on the other hand, has an awful home life.  She lives with her mother, her five siblings, and her stepfather Richie.  Their family doesn’t have much money, and Eleanor and Richie have an awful relationship, but Eleanor loves her siblings dearly.

“He made her feel like more than the sum of her parts.”

I loved watching the relationship between Eleanor and Park grow, fuelled by comic books and music.  The pop-culture references in their relationship keep the story light and interesting, without making you feel like you needed to be an 80’s geek to keep up.  I personally thought the relationship was wonderfully done.  I’ve read a few reviews where people said they felt it was too sudden, but I thought it was beautifully portrayed.  Rowell has captured those feelings of early love – the excitement, the nervousness, the intensity.  The push and pull of those first few weeks of will-they won’t-they, the phone calls and the hundred times a day you think “I can’t wait to tell him/her about….”

“And because I’m so out of control, I can’t help myself. I’m not even mine anymore, I’m yours, and what if you decide that you don’t want me? How could you want me like I want you?”

Park was a wonderful love interest.  At the beginning of the novel, he’s just like everyone else: he doesn’t want to risk becoming the next victim of bullying so that the new girl can sit down.  He thinks she’s weirdly dressed and awkward, but eventually he lets her sit down.  As the relationship grows, Park becomes less interested in what everyone else thinks, and more interested in Eleanor, and sharing with her things he knows she’ll love.  Eleanor is very easy to relate to, with her self-confidence issues and her love for her siblings.  She has feelings she can’t get her head around, and she finds it hard to articulate things romantically the way Park seems to find easy.  Whilst I found it easier to connect with Eleanor, Park is ultimately the character that sold the story for me because he is, lets be honest, pretty swoon worthy.

Eleanor & Park reminded me in some ways of Pushing The Limits, but one of my biggest complaints with Pushing the Limits was the adults.  I felt like they were two-dimensional, almost cartoon villains.  Thankfully, this is not the case in Eleanor & Park.  Although we have some awful adults, we also have some great ones to balance that out, to show that it isn’t always a case of teenagers on one side of a line and adults on the other.

The ending for me was the only tiny disappointment, because although I liked getting an ending for Eleanor and Park, I’d have liked to see more about what happened with Eleanor’s mum and Richie.

Buy it? This is definitely one that’s worth buying for me.
In a nutshell: A beautifully developed romance with fantastically interesting characters and fun pop-culture references.

Other Reviews of Eleanor & Park: Helen’s Book Blog | 2 geek girls Review books | Pretty Books

Worth mentioning:

I’ve read a few negative reviews of Eleanor & Park, particularly regarding Park’s race and the historical context, and while I’m not sure I necessarily agree, those reviews really made me think (try this one for an example).  I absolutely loved Park as a character, but at the same time, I felt like he was labelled as ‘a misfit’ partially just so that he and Eleanor could share that.   Rowell has been quoted as saying that “The neighborhood Eleanor and Park live in is the neighborhood I grew up in. And at that time, it was white and racist”.  Despite that, Eleanor is the one who gets abused, because she’s bigger, she dresses unusually and she has bright red hair.  Park, despite getting some ignorant comments (such as being referred to as Chinese or assuming he knows all about Kung Fu), fits in reasonably well.  He’s not overly popular, but a popular girl is interested in him, he has a civilised relationship with the loud mouth on the school bus, and he wears eyeliner and reads comic books without being bullied every day.  I know plenty of kids who were treated worse for dressing ‘emo’ or being a geek when I went to high school more than fifteen years later, so Park’s social stability in a time frame known for racism felt a little strange to me.  In all honesty, most of the negativity towards Park’s race felt like it came from Park himself, which is a completely different issue (and one that wasn’t explored in my opinion).

I feel a little like Park’s race was treated as more of an afterthought than a relevant element of his character.  That may be because Rowell didn’t want to go in depth into racism in a YA book, which is a perspective I can respect, even if I don’t necessarily agree.  It may be because it is meant to be a minor part of his character, rather than the defining characteristic, which I agree it should be but this feels like a very open-minded perspective for a racist community.  It may be because it’s not relevant to the plot; after all the romance is the most important element of the story (although if that’s the case, I’m not sure I understand the need to set it in 1986).  It may simply be that I’m being swayed by some well written critical reviews.  I’m not honestly sure, but what I do know is that if I’m being completely honest, they didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story so much as change how I thought about the book after finishing.  Most of these thoughts didn’t really materialise until after reading some negative reviews of Eleanor & Park, so they won’t be affecting my review rating.  I still very much enjoyed the romance, the characters and the story itself; it’s just something I’ll be paying closer attention to when I re-read the book.  And I admit, I have no doubt I’ll re-read the book eventually because I really enjoyed it.

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