By Rainbow Rowell
Published 2013 by St. Martin's Press
If everything were up to Cath, she'd still be living at home, taking care of her dad and finishing up her epic Simon Snow fanfiction. After all, she's got tons of fans waiting to see how Cath will end Simon's story. But, it's not all up to Cath - so here she is, struggling through freshman year of college and all that entails. Can Cath make her own way without the help of her twin sister? Can she navigate the world of professors and classes and boys and her own stories?
I might be one of the only people in the world who wasn't completely sold on Eleanor & Park. I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it either. However, I found Rowell's writing incredibly skillful and interesting and I never write off an author after just one try. Additionally, I find fandom really, really fascinating, so this book inherently had more appeal for me than Eleanor & Park.
The short? I really loved this one. Once again, Rowell's writing is out of this world - it's not quite as heartbreakingly beautiful as it was in Eleanor & Park, but it is still so quietly lovely to read that I couldn't resist it. I think it's safe to say that Rowell is an incredibly skilled writer. She has an extreme talent for so realistically capturing the awkwardness and difficulty that is growing up and falling in love. At their hearts, both of her young adult novels have focused on falling in love for the first time, but both have also been about so much more.
What didn't I love about this book? Not much Not only does Rowell perfectly capture the tentativeness and unexpectedness of first love, I think she is spot on about fandom. Perhaps that is why I adore this book so much. Similar to This Song Will Save Your Life, this book was almost painful to read as I recognized so much of myself in Cath. I feel like I was Cath when I was in high school and maybe even during my first year of college. I read and adored fanfiction and, though I don't make time for that anymore, I still consider myself well-versed in a number of fandoms. Rowell manages to accurately depict what it means to be a fan and how wonderful it can feel to find someone else who gets it, to feel like you can really be yourself in front of someone, and how scary it can be to think that people will judge you for what you love. I'm not surprised to see this book coming out now - fandom seems to be everywhere nowadays, not hiding in the shadows as it felt to me in high school.
I'm a sucker for sibling relationships in teen books and Rowell has crafted a great one here. What child doesn't at some point in their life want a twin? I love seeing this dynamic explored - actually, I thought the entire family dynamic was really well-done in this book. I ached for Cath as she watches her father for signs of mania and I completely understood her anger at the mother who left her to sort it all out of her own. I completely sympathized with her confused mix of desire and need to take care of her sister. Everything just felt so real.
I thought the romance was well-done, too, though, admittedly, a bit predictable. I really wished for a different conclusion to the Nick storyline, but I suppose you can't have it all. Finally, I loved that Rowell included excerpts from both Cath and Wren's fic and the books from which their fandom grew. I love, love, loved the ending - completely perfect and it captured the novel's tone so beautifully.
On a small side note, reading this book brought out the sociologist in me a bit - it made me want to study fandoms and the people who participate in them and what drives them to create their fic and their fanart and why fandoms are particularly dominated by young women and why certain kinds of relationships in the fic attract them more than others. So many questions - it really made me want to get back in the fandom world and study it from the inside.
Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via NetGalley.