by Rainbow Rowell
Hardcover, 438 pg.
St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013
No one can write messed-up characters like Rainbow Rowell can — socially awkward, clever, emotionally scarred, and incredibly likeable. A lot like many people.
Speaking of likeable, it takes no more than a few pages, maybe even a couple of paragraphs before Cath wins the reader over completely. Okay, so she’s a little too into this semi-Harry Potter world, and spends what many would consider an unhealthy amount of time on her fanfic — but she gets great grades, and something resembling a social life, who’s to judge? She’s having a hard time adjusting to college life — her identical twin (Wren — get it?) is taking the opportunity to go out on her own, and Cath’s just not ready for that. For the first time in her life, she’s really not half of a set, and that takes a toll on her esteem, confidence, and — actually — everything. Her high school boyfriend being in another state and mostly incommunicado makes it all worse.
Slowly, Cath starts to find a place in college — makes a friends (most of which are worth having). There’s a lot of ups and downs along the way — there’s plenty of family drama — friction between the sisters, emotional troubles for their dad at home, and a lot of unresolved issues surrounding their mother’s/wife’s abandoning the family years ago. Which doesn’t help out her schoolwork at all — and drives her further into her fanfic.
This is done in such a way that it doesn’t feel like silly teen/young adult dramatics — it feels like a rough patch that a dear friend is going through. The former would be easy for many authors to evoke, and I’d probably end up walking away from the book. But because Rowell can make us feel the latter, we pull for Cath, and keep reading on, getting further invested in her character.
There are bright spots — Cath and others make some progress in dealing with troubles from their past, Cath meets some fans of her fanfic, and — not at all surprisingly — there’s some fun (and awkward) and heartwarming romance kindled.
I know precious little about fanfic, honestly — I’ve read a few authors pouring out the hate for it, and some defending and/or celebrating it. I hardly have enough time to read the original works set in the worlds I like, I certainly have no time for the “unofficial” takes on it. So I really didn’t care about Cath’s passion for her hobby — or for those who had a different take on it. I thought Rowell dealt with it pretty well, on the whole, and was fair enough to both poles while staying fairly realistic.
Not as gut- and heart-wrenching as Eleanor & Park, but told with the same amount of heart (and more laughs). This is one of those books that when you see the end coming, you start to read slower, because you’re just not done with these people yet. If she had the story, I’d have read another few hundred pages just to stick with Cath, Wren, Levi, Reagan and the rest for a little longer — honestly, I’d have done it without the story.