Author: Rainbow Rowell
Publication Date: 9/10/13
How I Found It: So many book bloggers love Rainbow Rowell - I had to give her work a try!
Date Completed: 10/3/15
Summary: Cath and her twin sister Wren are starting college in Nebraska. Cath would rather be at home, watching over their bipolar father and writing fan fiction about the Simon Snow series (a total Harry Potter knockoff). College, however, brings new personal challenges are she takes a Fiction Writing course, begins to bond with her roommate, and navigates her own love life.
What I Thought: I honestly did not know what to expect going into this book. I have seen so many other book bloggers raving about Rainbow Rowell's work, but I was wary it would fall into a more cliché YA lit category (i.e. not well written and a little too emotional and romance driven for my taste). I found myself pleasantly surprised when I, too, raced through Rowell's work, enjoying it far more than I had anticipated.
First and foremost, I love how self-aware Cath is. Rowell's decision to make Cath not only aware but snarky about some of the more cliché college moments happening around her kept the story from veering too far into a classic coming-of-age story.
Hand in hand with Cath's self-awareness, Rowell captures the tension between her protagonist Cath's feminism and Levi's chivalric nature so well. I was really impressed by this. Reading the story as someone who is both fiercely feministic and who also (most of the time) loves being treated with that special extra dose of attention reminiscent of old school romance, I liked that Levi and Cath were able to demonstrate both of those aspects of their relationship. Rowell captures it best in a scene in which they are arguing over who carries a laundry basket. It's such a mundane moment, but that's when those two ideals are often most at odds, so I appreciated it.
Here's the thing about this book, though.....
Not much actually happens. You can see this as a triumph of character-driven story telling (the direction I tend to lean), or you could find it a terribly dull exploration of emotion and relationships without any real action. Arguably, the story doesn't even really have concrete edges. Rowell centers it around Cath's freshman year, yes, but there is little fanfare at the start or end - no big moment that kicks off some action (other than going to school) or no big, conclusive ending. The structure is there, but only loosely. I know others would complain about this, but I actually liked the fluid feeling of the story. It made me feel as though I was just looking in on one year of Cath's life, rather than witnessing everything worth telling that ever happened to her. I know, as a reader, that she has had adventures in the past and will have them again in the future. This is just one snippet I get to share. Character, character, character. You all know how I love character-driven books.
I also thought Rowell's exploration of the fan fiction world was fascinating. While I do not know much about the culture of fan fiction, I knew enough to be comfortable with most of the terminology, etc. that Rowell referenced. I particularly liked that she had Cath face the dilemma over whether fan fiction is intellectual plagiarism. As a teacher and aspiring writer myself, it's a debate I find particularly intriguing. I don't think Rowell really gave a firm answer one way or the other. While her protagonist clearly adores the genre and finds great satisfaction in it, I appreciated the perspective of Cath's Fiction Writing teacher who scolds her for turning in fan fiction in an academic assignment. In that scenario, I land fully with the professor.
While I certainly did not think the book was perfect, I will definitely pick up another Rowell work if this serves as an accurate example of her style. It was fun, quick, and creative. Even qualifies ever so slightly as a guilty pleasure read with all the imaginary fan fiction excerpts and college romance on the edges.
Thanks for the recommendation, fellow book blogging community!
Will I Re-Read: Maybe
A Reduced Review: My first Rowell novel turned out to be such a fun, creative journey!
I'm proud to remind you that this book is on my 2015 TBR Pile Challenge list. I'm so excited I joined this challenge for the first time. I am enjoying having some structure to my TBR and the change to make intentional choices about what I read next. Make sure you check out the rest of my list and follow the challenge throughout the year.