Honest and lively YA book reviews
Life is so hard. There's just so much of it. There's complicated relationships, credit cards, gas stations, public restrooms, mortgages, clothes that don't fit, cats that cry all night, hateful bosses, insurance (Is it a scam? It feels like a scam), torrential rain, house spiders (that a wild animal has the audacity to simply move into my home astounds me), chest infections, water inexplicably dripping through the ceiling, smashed mugs, missing library cards, neighbours who talk to their hands, the ocean, unaffordable dental surgery, university interviews - the list is endless. It's easy to feel overwhelmed. Because on top of all these niggling worries, dreads, fears and confusions we've got this necessity foisted upon us to appear as if we've got out shit together. I want to tell you all a little secret - it's okay. It's all okay.
It's okay if you have a solid career, you own your own home and have substantial savings by the age of 25. But, it's also okay if you still want to spend everyday in your owl pyjamas, if you are working a minimum wage job because you have yet to choose a career, if you want to eat pizza and ice cream and watch every Harry Potter movie all over again. It's okay if you don't go to wine parties and you don't own a pair of high heels. It's okay if you put comfort first and fashion last. It's okay if you don't feel like going any further than the living room today. And it's also okay if you feel like roaming around. Not doing anything. It's all okay.
I hate how much time people seem to spend on comparing themselves to others. "I should have a promotion by now!" they cry. "I should be in a solid, steady relationship!" or "I should have "cultured" interests!"
I would ask right back attcha: Why?!!
Why do you have to be hitting a certain "milestone" (who came up with these fucking milestones anyway?!! Damn them!! Damn them all to hell!!) at a certain age? Why do you have to have a husband or a house or a career by the time you're 30? Who came up with this idea that we all have to follow some uniform life plan?
I say screw your fucking life plan. Screw that sucker up and toss it right in the trash alongside "You must have a baby because you have a womb" and "Why haven't you learned to drive?! You're 24 years old!!" and "Oh. You still haven't made it to university yet huh?"
Everyone is unique. Everyone has their own perspective on life, their own expectations, their own dreams. No-one should ever be made to feel like they're a failure because they refuse to adhere to the tradition of school-job-husband-kids step-by-step guide for a successful life that would get your grandmother to stop rolling her eyes and sighing if you'd only just stick to the plan.
I digress and I rant. What I'm trying to say is how much I adore Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell for letting us know "Hey, it's okay to be different" in a gentle, beautifully ordinary and relatable way.
Cath, our adorable heroine sets off to college with her twin sister full to bursting with social anxiety, dread and discomfort. She has no confidence in new situations, worries constantly and seems to have no plans beyond taking it one wobbly day at a time. But she does have her fan fiction. Cath is border-line obsessed with fictional character, Simon Snow and his magical adventures in a world of mages, wands, spells and friendship. She finds enormous comfort and peace in getting lost in her epically popular writing as her merry band of loyal internet followers cheer her on. However, real life looms large over Cath and as her sister Wren throws herself headlong into the fray, Cath struggles to come to terms with growing up and branching out.
My god - this book is eye-wateringly cute and delightful!! It was a total breath of fresh air from all the usual pretentious, vomit-inducing, cardboard cutout coming of age garbage we have handed to us and instructed to love or risk being shunned forever. Fangirl felt so genuine and comfortable. The dialog was easy and flowing. The description was well woven and the characters wonderfully developed and brought to life.
I loved Cath. And I adored her roommate Reagan, and sweet Levi. Their dialog and relationships were just so nice. I hate that word. It's incredibly wishy-washy and a lame adjective but I can't figure out any other way to put it. They were supportive, encouraging and easy going with each other. Reagan was fantastic. Cath puts is best:
"Cath looked at Reagan. Even without her makeup and hair, the girl was terrifying. There was just no fear in her. No hesitation. Talking to Reagan was like standing in front of an oncoming train."
Reagan is fiercely self-confident, independent and loyal. She's an awesome friend. She encourages Cath to step outside of her comfort zone without pushing her. She playfully pokes fun at Cath's eccentricity without laughing at her or ever making her feel uncomfortable. The friendship she offers is perfect, in that she's there for Cath without being overbearing, judgemental or self-righteous. She's written into the story to highlight Cath's oddity, but she completely avoids becoming any kind of stereotypical bitch-of-the-dorm. In fact, Ms Rowell somehow manages to tell us a brilliant story of growing up and stepping out without finding the need to include a single cliche. Every character feels fresh and real.
Cath herself is not a typical heroine for this genre. She doesn't feel the need to lose weight to fit in, she doesn't leave behind who she is to fit the mould - she doesn't feel the need to fit in at all. She remains true to herself and maintains her integrity throughout. What she does learn is to let people in. She learns that she doesn't need to use her outgoing, somewhat wild twin sister as a shield. Cath has her own strength and value. She may be different, she may not fit with the stereotypical college student image but that's okay. She's living her life in a way that comfortable and rewarding for herself. And that's enough for her. And she realises that that's also enough for other people to love her when she finds herself falling for the adorable Levi.
I heart Levi. He's a gentleman. He's sweet and kind, and almost a little too perfect. He trips up a few times, he's human just like the rest of the characters in Fangirl, he's written so genuinely and with so much heart I feel her could be a real guy, serving coffee and driving that beat up old truck. His dialog with Cath is fantastically flowing and in no way forced. Everyone seems to say the right thing at appropriately the right time. For once.
To be honest, this book saved the coming-of-age theme for me. In my mind it was dying a slow and painful death, and Fangirl pulled it up off it's knees, gave it a good hard slap upside the head and ordered it to get a grip. I'm tired of pretentious bullshit, I'm tired of deep meaningful crap which never happened to anyone aged 18 ever. This book is full of completely ordinary events written to be something special. In that way it's incredibly relatable and honest. I could see a lot of myself in Cath. I could also see myself in Wren and Reagan. There didn't need to be explosions, there didn't need to be dramatic, soul-shaking diabolically tragic situations to be battled through. There was just Cath, dealing with her shit. And it was beautiful.
The reason I knocked one star off my rating was the fan fiction. And to be honest the excepts from the book the fan fiction was based on were kinda tedious too. I thought it felt a bit odd and disjointed to cut away from Cath and her life to read about Simon Snow's
adventures at the end of every chapter. I can see why the author did it - this is what Cath does. She frequently cuts away from her reality to live in the comforting, exciting world of Simon Snow and the gang for a while for some respite away from the pressures of college, family and her social struggle. It's why many of us read - to escape. But while I understand the reasoning behind structuring the novel like this, it still felt distracting. I just wanted to read Cath's story. I didn't care much for Simon and his mortal enemy/lover, Baz.
Using Simon and Baz even, as the fictional characters at the heart of Cath's obsession was a bit strange in itself as it's so obviously based on Harry Potter I found myself wondering what was the point of using a made-up fandom when there's a ready made one alive and thriving right here in the world. Is Cath's world an alternate universe where Harry Potter doesn't exist? Dunno. It just seemed slightly odd. But really, whatevs. This didn't affect my enjoyment of Fangirl in a huge way, so I don't really know why I care.
Look - just read the book. It's like getting a big hug from the universe. It actually made me smile while I was reading and that's a very rare thing. I'm hyper critical and very judgemental of all the books I read, so coming from me this is high praise.
Enjoy!! Then live, love, laugh guys!! See y'all after!!