My first Rainbow Rowell’s novel was Eleanor & Park – I just adore it! When Fangirl became available at my neighborhood bookstore, I grabbed it right away, even when I’ve still got tons of unread books collecting dust on my bookshelves. I’ve read a lot of good reviews about the book, and while I usually cringe at the term YA Romance (I used to teach middle school, and didn’t want to get caught dead reading at the YA section by my former students!), I’d have to make an exception for this book. To start with, the book doesn’t even smell YA – maybe more of a New Adult, since that term seems to be so happening lately..
Cath – short for Cather – is the new adult; she’s just starting college in Lincoln, NE (where Ms. Rowell went to school, I assume!) and had to share a dorm without her twin, Wren. They’ve been inseparable since they were born; Wren certainly has a bit of a wild streak, and a carefree take on life. On her first day, she found out that her new roommate brought along a guy friend. In fact, Levi the guy, was the first person to meet her in front of her dorm room before Cath even had the chance to meet Reagan, her real roommate.
Cath is always studious, and likes to keep herself inside her room writing fan fiction. She’s decided to major in English, and based on her fanfic writing, she’s set to be the next JK Rowling, or in her world, Gemma T. Leslie (GTL) who writes a hugely popular series, not too far removed from Harry Potter, called Simon Snow. When other freshmen went about their freedom to get wasted while being away from home, Cath’s busy churning out new Simon Snow alternate universe for her blog followers, and practically lived in various Snow t-shirts she brought with her. Levi, on the other hand, is a junior who majors in Ranger Management; he found the whole fanfic thing amusing. He often dropped by her dorm to tail Reagan, but before long, we readers would just take the hint that he liked Cath. The thing is, Cath thought Levi’s one of Reagan’s boyfriend, and while she probably sensed that he’s into her, tried to distance herself from him because she felt they were worlds different.
I admire Ms. Rowell’s writing – her words just flow out of the book effortlessly, and while they’re not Keats-ian, they’re quotably cute. Say like,
"Cath liked Levi. A lot. She liked looking at him. She liked listening to him-though sometimes she hated listening to him talk to other people. she hated the way he passed out smiles to everyone he met like it didn’t cost him anything, like he’d never run out. He made everything look so easy…" (p.186-187)
I wish my dorm experience had been as good as Cath’s. It was 20 or so years ago already, yet I still remember how my American roommates complained about how my shrimp crackers smelled like dead fish (ha!), how my long-distance calls to home made them awake all night (what can I do if there’s 12h time difference between EST and WIB?), and how I never scrubbed the bathroom floor (I did clean it up sometimes, but avoided that chore as much as I could.) It’s cake-walk for Cath compared to my real-life experience. It was a relief I found a roommate for an apartment, after 9 months going to the laundry room in the middle of the night. In this book, Reagan’s a dream roommate for socially-inept person such as I. Plus, she’s the one who brought Levi to Cath’s life.
Sometimes I can see how everything gets to conveniently tied up for Cath toward the end of the book; all the puzzle pieces finally fit into place without damaging her for life. Yet, Ms. Rowell didn’t make Cath’s life easier; we readers got to know her depressed dad and estranged mother along the way – she did keep her angst buried deep. We also learned a bit about Fiction Writing and how the class created a brief interference in her relationship.
Solely for the writing, I gave this book a 5-star. For originality, a constellation. Seriously, a romance based on fan-fiction with a protagonist who’s a borderline prude and likes to write about gay relationship (you have to read the book to find out..)? If it’s a Wolverine movie, you’d probably come back for the prequel.. And though none of the stars in this review can be claimed by Levi, I should thank Ms. Rowell for her creation.
Every girl wants to have a Levi in her life, maybe as a friend, ex-boyfriend, boyfriend, hubby,… I used to know a guy like that (he got away, phew!) I keep looking for that guy – somebody I can look directly in the eye and:
"(She) knew what that was like. His eyes were warm and baby blue. They made you feel like he liked you better than other people." (p.221)
Until then, I have this book within arm’s reach..