Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (review) // college, fanfiction, and the #nerdlife

16068905From the author of the New York Times bestseller Eleanor & ParkA 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?

Fangirl has been on my TBR for eons, and I’m sure I had been avoiding it due to my dislike for Eleanor And Park (one of the few books I had DNF’d and never picked back up). Fortunately, I came to my senses and grabbed Fangirl after years of hesitation, and for the most part, it payed off.

Rowell introduced all the characters so nonchalantly yet all of them made a strong enough impression to not fade into the background like some side characters tend to do. Cath was a great protagonist — likable, realistic, but also flawed and pretty annoying at parts. Her struggle with anxiety and adjusting to a new environment was so subtly expressed. I also adored the relationship between Cath, Wren, and their father. So full of love and concern but also realistic enough to depict all of their disagreements and ups and downs. The supporting characters — Levi, Reagan, Nick, etc. took some time to warm up to (some I still haven’t warmed up to), because they acted like plot devices at times simply to further Cath’s character development, but I did enjoy their presence in the story.

I loved where the story was going the first half. It was very carefully yet strongly plotted, and the themes of growing up and finding your identity were very, very relatable. I’m heading off to college this fall so exploring the atmosphere of a dorm room, dining halls, and overall college craziness was quite a visceral yet unpredictable experience, one I enjoyed actually. I loved the relationship between Levi and Cath at this point, and the tension between Cath and Wren was practically palpable. Cath’s dedication toward the Simon Snow fandom and her fanfiction was also nicely expressed, and I loved reading about her struggle to balance it with her duties as a college student and future fiction-writer.

Unfortunately, the plot totally fell off for me when the second half began. Cath’s relationship with her family, her writing journey, and her struggle with creating and maintaining certain relationships were all equally explored. And don’t get me wrong, it was all well done, but I didn’t find it as interesting as the first half. Levi and Cath’s relationship was a large reason for this; it felt a little blase and didn’t really seem to bring out anything particularly surprising in Cath. I called it out from the start and the progression of their romance was rather predictable and unchallenged.

My opinions on the second half didn’t stop me from enjoying the essence of Fangirl, however. It didn’t go the way I wanted it to go in the end, but everyone can relate to the themes of growing up and breaking out of that shell. In this case, the shell is the #nerdlife. Which we can all totally relate to, right? Haha, but I would definitely recommend this to any young person out there, Rainbow Rowell fans or not.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Thanks for reading, guys! What did you think of this review? Have you read Fangirl? Let me know in the comments 🙂

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Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell | A super cute Harry Potter “fanfic.” Nuff said.

4.5 Stars

Simon Snow is the worst Chosen One who’s ever been chosen.

That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right.

Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he starts something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around, wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here — it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up.

Carry On – The Rise and Fall of Simon Snow is a ghost story, a love story and a mystery. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story – but far, far more monsters.

Carry On is one of those rare books where I read over 90% of this 500+ page book in a day. I have to say, I didn’t expect to like this book nearly as much as I did. I haven’t read Fangirl, but knew that this was essentially a book within a book that became its own book, which hardly attracted me. In addition, it was reviewed widely as basically  a Harry Potter fanfic, which worried me. I’m as obsessed with HP as any reader, but a spin-off written by a contemporary author? Seriously? Well, Carry On was all of those things: romancy, a spin-off, and a copy of Harry Potter from start to finish. And I loved every bit of it.

So I’m going to talk about Carry On as its own book, and not as a Fangirl related one, probably because I haven’t read the latter (I know, sue me). This book is about Simon Snow, a super powerful orphan mage referred to as “The Chosen One,” prophesied to defeat an evil connected to him in some way. Currently, he attends the Watford School of Magicks, where he studies with his two best friends and enemy/rival, who Simon initially suspects is up to no good. Sound familiar?

The comparisons to HP were overwhelming at first, and I definitely wasn’t sold on Simon’s obsession with his rival Baz’s disappearance. However, as I read on (and once Baz finally showed up), I began to enjoy the book much more and note the differences between this and Harry Potter. There are no school houses, for one. The spells are also common English phrases, and wands are not the only way of harnessing power. The world and class differences/tension are similar, but developed in a different way.

But what truly sold me were the characters. Simon is very adorable, and his best friend Penelope is all kinds of awesome. Baz, as well, is (secretly) super cute and his interactions with Simon had me squealing on the floor. The character relationships were surprisingly layered and very enjoyable to read. I also liked Simon’s relationships with the adults in his life, particularly the Mage.

The romance between Baz and Simon somehow wasn’t forced, either. My initial worry (knowing Rowell’s standard style of writing) was that there’d be more kissing than actual substance, but that wasn’t really the case. Although Baz’s love for Simon was a bit bluntly stated in the beginning, they don’t actually kiss until page 343-ish, which I was very happy about. Overall, the romance and characters were so much fun that I was more than happy to overlook the obvious flaws of this book.

Oh, the flaws. I wish I didn’t have to cover this but I consider it my obligation as a reviewer. I gave this book a very high rating simply on the basis of how much I relished it, but it cannot be ignored that the plot is, well… nonexistent. The “Voldemort” of this book, the Insidious Humdrum, takes a back seat to the Simon-Baz tension and there’s no real effort made on Simon’s part to defeat it. Most of the story revolves around figuring out who murdered Baz’s mom, but progress is excruciatingly slow. While Harry Potter also rarely had Voldemort show up for the majority of the book, the time was spent on world-building, foreshadowing, and attending classes. I don’t think I can name a single class Simon attended (because they were so inconsequential), and there was no growing mystery or a sense of foreboding. There just… wasn’t much of a plot.

This may sound like a game-killer for you, and if you’re considering scrolling away to some other book, think again. Despite everything, if you’re a character-driven reader looking for a cute read, please try Carry On. I hope you don’t regret it, because I certainly didn’t. 🙂

~Liz