Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

16068905I’ve mentioned more than once that I’m a former (okay, maybe former and current) fanfiction writer. So after I read Eleanor & Park last year and discovered Rainbow Rowell had written a book about a girl who writes fanfiction…well…consider my interest piqued.

Cath is a normal college freshman. She’s anxious to start her first year of college, bummed that her identical twin sister is trying to break away from their special built-in bond, and terrified of leaving her manic father alone. She still harbors a lot of hurt over her mother’s abandonment and her college roommate appears to hate her. Then there are boys. You can’t blame a girl for wanting to crawl inside her fandom and disappear. We’ve all felt like that a time or two.

What made me love Fangirl? All of the things. Literally…all of them. My first year of college was so similar to Cath’s that I just melted under all the nostalgia. Rowell is the master of creating real teenagers. Everything from Cath’s extreme social introversion to her oddly forceful awkwardness around boys can be found on college campuses around the world. The relationship she had with her roommate was great – perhaps the best relationship in the book. Their dialogue was quirky and age appropriate which I often find lacking in young adult literature.

Many readers have claimed Fangirl has too much going on – too many little plot bunnies running around and not enough time to give the proper attention to any of them. These are valid complaints. But this didn’t bother me even a little bit. I, too, had crazy family drama going on around me during college and often didn’t have the time to focus on my actual real life issues. So for me, this felt just like what I had actually gone through a decade ago. It’s like Rowell had channeled 20-year-old Brooke and written this novel just for me.

My own personal criticism lies only in the romance. I loved the slow build-up, but the after parts were too squishy. Every time Levi called Cath sweetheart I wanted to gag…sorry, not sorry. This pet peeve is also just a personal preference. Jimmy and I have never used pet names for each other because I think they’re gross. See why romantical stories are not my favorite? But, the rest of the book was the perfect bookend to my twenties and felt particularly poignant with the big 3-0 looming on the end-of-month horizon. And even though I wish I’d had Rainbow Rowell all those years ago, I can honestly say I’m just as happy I’ve got her now.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

15745753Be still my heart. What a heck of a little YA contemporary romance.

Eleanor & Park has made its rounds on the blogosphere and booktube several times at this point. Rowell has captured the first love of two 15/16 year old kids in 1986 rather perfectly. But beyond that, she’s captured exactly what it’s like to be a misfit and to come from some pretty shitty circumstances. She’s created Eleanor, a girl growing up with a horrifically abusive stepfather, suffering from the severe constraints of poverty, and  buried under the self-consciousness of being an overweight teenage girl. With Park, she’s drawn a half-white, half-Korean boy with a love of black clothes, punk rock, comic books, and a freakin’ heart of gold. A boy who deals with the constant disappoint of his father, constant comparisons to his more perfect brother, and who sits quietly on the school bus just hoping to go unnoticed. I loved them both unconditionally.

Eleanor and Park are real characters ; they feel like real people. These kids existed in 1986 and they exist now.

Rowell is a master of dialogue. She’s witty and clever yet manages to make her characters still sound like the young adults they are. That’s always been my problem with John Green. I love him to death, but his characters always sound too much like himself.  Rowell might be MY John Green. (I still love you, John!!)

There are cheesy moments here, for sure. Moments that in other books and handled by other authors have often made me cringe. But I just smiled happily and kept right on going. Why? Because something was just so grounded in the realness of my memories of teenagedom that I couldn’t help reminisce on my own high school years – my own crushes and first loves – my own struggles with the world, internal and external. I saw myself written on the page.

HUGELY RECOMMENDED.

Rating: starstarstarstar