Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell Review

Rating:

Cath is a Simon Snow fangirl, and not just any fan, the biggest. She’s basically an internet celebrity, with her fanfiction story Carry On garnering thousands of views everyday. When she and her sister Wren head off to university, Cath struggles to adapt to the world around her and buries herself in what she knows, Carry On. However, soon the outside world starts to creep in. Her creative writing class excites her, her roommate Reagan becomes a firm friend, and Levi, Reagan’s best friend, more than catches her eye. Will she have to choose between the real world and Simon Snow’s world, or will she be able to balance the two?

While I did enjoy Fangirl, at times it just felt way too long. I think that this was exacerbated by the fact that Fangirl is a very character-driven novel, and so at times the plot not only takes a back seat, but disappears altogether. There were plenty of smaller storylines, such as Cath and Levi’s relationship, Cath’s writing assignments, and her father’ mental health crisis, but there were periods in between these events that meant that we’re simply reading Cath, sitting in her dorm room in front of her laptop, worrying about various other events. Personally, even though I love character-driven novels, I did get bored of Cath thinking about doing stuff and not actually doing anything. Luckily, Fangirl has a cast of fun and lively characters, and they were entertaining enough to keep me reading. If it had been more concise, I would have loved the book completely.

One of my favourite aspects of Fangirl was the exploration of fanfiction in a way that presented it as real literature, and not an embarrassing online subculture. The fact that Cath has so many online fans that she is even approached by one in the real world, and that her fans insist she finish publishing her story before the actual final book in the series is published. However, there were parts about it that I found annoying. I couldn’t really relate to Cath’s trouble when she submits fanfiction for her creative writing assignment, because I didn’t believe that someone as intelligent and creative as her wouldn’t know the rules regarding what she is allowed to submit. Personally, whenever I submitted work in my studies, I would pore over the rules and ensure that I hadn’t broken a single rule, and so it seemed unrealistic and just a little dumb of her to submit a Simon Snow story.

In addition, I hated the excerpts from the fictional Simon Snow novels and her own fanfiction stories and actually ended up skipping them altogether very early into the novel. I just did not care at all about Simon Snow’s story, and it did not contribute at all to the main story. It was enough to know that Simon Snow was a Harry-Potter-esque series of novels, without having it forced down my throat. Put simply, I had chosen to read Fangirl, and not Simon Snow, so the fact that it was interrupting the main story started to piss me off.

Overall, I liked Fangirl, but I didn’t love it. There were major issues in pacing for me that ruined what would otherwise have been a great reading experience, and these were so significant that they overpowered what was otherwise a really interesting concept and fun characters.

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Book Reviews, Contemporary

Attachments – Rainbow Rowell Review

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Rating:★★★

Attachments is a very sweet book, as can be expected from Rainbow Rowell, whose books are basically like good 90s/00s romcoms in literary form. I loved the split narration styles and the setting in a time where the internet was new and exciting (and confusing). However, despite this being really cute, I did feel like the plot was quite slow and most of the action was concentrated in the last few chapters of the book.

The main character of this book is Lincoln. He still hasn’t recovered from his high school girlfriend dumping him in their first year of college, and since then, has spent a decade completing different degrees and unable to move on. He is trying though. In Attachments, he has just moved on with his mother and has a proper job for the first time. He works night shifts in IT at a newspaper, reading people’s emails to make sure they aren’t doing anything they shouldn’t do. It is doing this that he stumbles upon Jennifer and Beth, best friends who talk about their lives through email. Lincoln is swept up by their friendship, but soon realises that he is feeling much more than mere curiosity. How can he make nothing into something?

My favourite thing about this book was the different styles of narrating for the different characters. Lincoln’s stories are told in normal prose, but we read Beth and Jennifer’s story through their emails. I loved the chatty tone of their chapters, and I felt like Rowell really captured the humorous, sarcastic and gossip-y tone of best friends’ conversations. It was even more interesting when the characters started experiencing problems outside of work, and you could see that there were things not being shared over email and going on behind the scenes. It really added some mystery to the novel, as you are invested in this friendship and the characters but unable to see what else is happening. It was also really funny to see the girls talking about Lincoln over email, not knowing who he is and that he is reading their emails. The use of internet in this novel was really interesting, and even though this is set in 1999/2000 in an office where internet has just been provided to staff, I felt like the idea of feeling like you know someone because you’ve seen enough of them online, only to realise that in the real world you don’t know each other at all, is quite relatable even 20 years after the time the story is set.

The story is really, really cute for these reasons. You see two sets of characters only knowing each other from a distance, all thinking about each other, but unable to take the next step and make their relationship a real thing. However, it was quite slow. Beth and Lincoln don’t even meet each other until the end, and it felt like the story built up and culminated within a few pages, making the slow development of the entire rest of the book feel glaringly obvious. It wasn’t until the end of the book that I realised how little had actually happened, especially considering that the way the story ends didn’t actually relate to anything that had happened before, it felt like the ending was rushed.

I also felt like as the story began to come to its climax, the creepiness of the situation felt more and more creepy. While I do think that it is a reality in the 21st century that people do become interested in people from afar thanks to the internet, the fact that Lincoln was learning about Beth entirely through private emails and not through, say, social media, felt very intrusive to me. I don’t think it would have felt as odd to me if it had been social media ‘stalking’, but private emails between friends that Lincoln didn’t actually need to be reading because they weren’t discussing anything against the rules felt like it was just too much.

Overall, Attachments was a nice, sweet read. I wouldn’t say it made much of an impact or made me feel anything very strongly. The story was super slow, but I still enjoyed most of it. However, I felt like as I read more and more, Lincoln went from feeling like a bit of a nerd and a loner, which I can relate to, to feeling a bit like a peeping tom, which I felt more apprehensive about.

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell Review

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Rating: ★★★

I struggled quite a lot with coming to a conclusion about how I felt about this book. On the one hand, I liked that the characters felt real and different to the typical YA contemporary protagonist, but I also am not a big fan of novels that have romance as its main storyline and I didn’t feel like this book’s writing was enough to my tastes for me to be really swept away by it. I didn’t really feel that fuzzy warmth that you look to feel from a love story, but I enjoyed the characters’ families and their storylines.

Eleanor & Park is about the titular characters and their relationship. Eleanor has just moved back in with her mother, siblings and her mother’s abusive husband, so she’s new to the school. To make things worse, she dresses all wrong, and she’s overweight (Rainbow Rowell wrote a really interesting comment piece on this here). Park is half-Korean, loves bands and comic books and lives with both parents and his brother in domestic bliss. While you can’t judge a book called Eleanor & Park for being predictable for focusing on the relationship between Eleanor and Park, I just felt like the actual development of the relationship was boring, and it wasn’t until the very end of the novel that I actually felt emotionally affected by the book. While I’m not a fan of romance novels, I do usually enjoy YA contemporaries enough to get past this. However, in this novel, I didn’t feel like there was enough emotion in the writing and I didn’t once come away feeling butterflies in my stomach. It simply felt like I was reading two characters back and forth, reading their actions and speech, and the emotion behind the actions just wasn’t strong enough for me. While it was clear that this relationship was a sincere and sweet relationship, I just would have really loved to feel it more strongly.

On the other hand, I loved the strong role that each of the characters’ families play in the book. YA books often relegate parents to the background of characters’ storylines, which I personally find unrealistic – after all, I see my parents everyday, and I don’t understand how you could ever take me without my family. In this novel however, both families feature heavily, not only in providing context for the central relationship but actually contributing to the plot of the novel. I liked the contrast between the two families, as Park’s family is so loving compared to Eleanor’s. I also think that, while I didn’t think Rowell’s writing really succeeded in making me care a lot about the romance storyline, I did feel really strongly with regard to Eleanor’s home setting. It didn’t feel sensationalised in the way that abusive family dynamics can be made to feel in media, instead, Rowell made the tension in the household clear, even if there was no direct violence. There are scenes where Eleanor’s step-father isn’t even scene, and you can still feel his oppressive presence.

Overall, I didn’t love this book, but I didn’t not like it. I think that I would have loved the novel if the writing had been a bit more to my liking, perhaps less simple and conversational in tone and more descriptive about the characters’ emotions. This was a good book, but I just don’t think it was the right book for me, and sometimes that just happens. I know that other people love this book, so if you like YA contemporary, or sweet romances, definitely give this book a try and tell me what you think!