Monthly Archives: April 2014

Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell

Most people under thirty (and many people over thirty) are edgy these days; our soft, organic, human curves honed to sharpness by the razor edges of technology. Our minds are edgy, as television and movies are edgy – jumping from thought to thought, chore to chore, channel to channel. Rainbow Rowell is edgy, too, and so is her writing. Rowell manages to skim along that razor with skill, keeping pace with the new way we think. Her writing seems effortless. Her fiction is fresh, exciting, and fun, along with being edgy. It’s also very, very real.

Fangirl (St. Martin’s Griffen, 2013)is a fairly straightforward story – twin sisters go to college. Each of them finds their own way. They have boyfriends, make new friends, work hard, make mistakes, etc. The rub comes as the sister’s co-dependent relationship crumbles. Cath, the painfully shy main character, is stretched to her limit as her sister Wren abandons her for her new friends. Cath buries herself in the world of fiction, particularly the fictional world of Simon Snow: reading it, writing fan fiction, and using it as an escape mechanism. Rowell weaves Cath’s story together with the fictional story of Simon Snow, and then throws in snippets of the fan fiction that Cath writes as well. Taken together, it’s a kaleidoscope of a story, a hall of mirrors in which one plot line is mirrored in another story, and again in another, distorted a bit each time. All of this is sewed together so seamlessly, it’s hard to see the skill involved in making this story sing.

But sing it does. Rainbow Rowell is writing great fiction, with great characters, great plot, and a sincere message. Somehow, she gets it just right. The characters shine as individuals; none of them perfect, all of them human and recognizable as facets of ourselves. There is enough movement to sweep you along, enough jumping to keep you tensed and ready to spring, enough humanity to grab hold of your compassion and tug you away from your own world into that of the characters.

If you are a fan of John Green (The Fault in Our Stars), you’ll likely enjoy anything written by Rainbow Rowell – they have similar messages and writing styles, and they use unconventional and powerful tools in their story telling that makes them interesting to read for people who have grown up in the digital age.

Rainbow Rowell succeeded in making Eleanor & Park one of the best written YA novels of 2013 (see my review here), and she succeeds again with Fangirl. I recommend it for anyone fourteen and up.


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The Here and Now, by Ann Brashares

The Here and Now, by Ann Brashares

You know how a great book sucks you under and keeps you there for hours and you come up sputtering and breathless, wondering where you are? Ann Brashares’ new book, The Here and Now (Delacourt Press, April 2014) is not like that. It is an interesting premise and a fast read, but I skimmed through it. At 256 pages, I couldn’t really dive any deeper.

The Here and Now is a tale of time travel. A faction of people from a harrowing ‘future earth’ come back and colonize the present in order to escape the horrible conditions of the future. They follow strict rules to keep from being discovered: they keep to themselves, avoid ‘intimate’ contact with others, try to fit in as best they can. These rules are enforced (sometimes violently) by the leaders of the group of travelers. Prenna, our teenage protagonist, falls in love with Ethan, a ‘time native’, and the two of them start to unravel the precarious chain of events that lead to the dystopian future Prenna has escaped.

It’s a great plot, if only marginally developed. I was with Brashares the whole way, but it was also flat and lifeless. There was no meat on the bones; no flesh on the characters. They remained cardboard cutouts, manipulated around the plot. Ironically, there was no past or background given for any of the characters, particularly Ethan, the ‘time native’. With no motives and no glimpse into the psyche of the characters, it was awfully hard to become emotionally involved and, at times, to understand the cause and effect of events.

This book could have been great, another Divergent or Hunger Games for YA readers. Instead, it feels rushed and undeveloped. I got something out of it, but it wasn’t the experience I was hoping for. I haven’t read The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, the immensely popular YA books by Brashares, but The Here and Now falls short of its potential, despite its great concept and gripping plot. If I could go back in time, I’d advise Brashares to slow down; give us the time to immerse ourselves in this world she has created. But we need the whole world, not just the plot.


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Dead End in Norvelt, by Jack Gantos

Dead End in Norvelt, by Jack Gantos

As a recently appointed middle school librarian, I’ve been reading quite a bit of middle school fiction, which is different than YA fiction and, it turns out, just as appealing to adults. I laughed so hard reading Dead End in Norvelt that my husband nearly had to begin CPR on me. I went that long without being able to breathe. Seriously.

Dead End in Norvelt (Farrar, Straus, and Geroux, September 2011) was awarded the 2012 Newbery Medal for the year’s best contribution to children’s literature and the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, and rightfully so: Jack Gantos is a fantastic writer. He can write a scene, drench it in history, spin it into action, and set in on a plate with a side of laughter. He can create believable, quirky characters that you root for with all your heart despite their oddities. Most of all, though, Gantos knows how to tell a good story, one that’s hard to put down, that keeps you up and night, and that makes you laugh.

Dead End in Norvelt is set in Norvelt, Pennsylvania in 1962. The book’s 12-year-old narrator (also coincidentally named Jack Gantos) has been grounded for the summer. There are only two reasons Jack can leave the house:

  1. to help his father dig a bomb shelter in the back yard (by hand) and
  2. to help his elderly, arthritic neighbor write obituaries for the town newspaper (which turns out to be an alarmingly busy task, as the older people in the bucolic town of Norvelt are dropping like flies.)

Despite those limiting factors (or because of them), Jack manages to have an action-packed summer, one punctuated by dramatic events, each event triggering an uncontrollable nosebleed in our not-as-tough-as-he-wishes-he-was narrator.

This book is not for the faint hearted – I recommended it to reluctant reader, in hopes that the fast moving plot line and frequent hilarity would entice him to read it. He returned it two days later. “Mrs. Rutten, I could not read this book. I have a gag reflex problem, and every time the main character had a nose bleed, I had to vomit.” He shook his head sadly and dropped it into the return bin.

Okay, so maybe this book isn’t for everybody. But most people, kids and adults alike, will love it.


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