Don't let the fan fiction part make you miss out on a great book. I've always avoided fan fiction because it sounded like quasi-plagiarism, which is an attitude shared by the writing teacher in Fangirl. With due respect to J.K. Rowling's copyright, Rowell created a Simon Snow series inspired by Harry Potter. Dazzling excerpts from the Snow books and from the twins' fan fiction appear throughout the novel, echoing real world themes. Cath's fan fiction is distinct in style and spin: the two boy wizards are secretly in love with each other. The gay-romance conceit verges on satire without losing heart. Both fans and foes of fan fiction will find much to love in Fangirl.
Fangirl is also a coming of age story with a sweet misfit romance. College boys are mostly interested in casual hook ups or flirting for help with homework. It's no wonder that Cath retreats to a fantasy world, but the real world characters prove to be more compelling. Toward the end, I forced myself to read more slowly because I knew I'd miss the characters after the final page. Book bloggers of all ages are raving about and rereading Fangirl. Rowell taps into something universal in the terrifying but exhilarating experience of freshman year at college.
I love Rowell's fresh writing style:
"Cath lived in a dorm, like a young adult - like someone who was still on adulthood probation."
"He made everything look so easy...Even standing. You didn't realize how much work everyone else put into holding themselves until you saw Levi leaning against the wall....He made standing look like vertical lying down."
On writing fiction other than fan fiction:
"When I'm writing my own stuff, it's like swimming upstream. Or...falling down a cliff and grabbing at branches, trying to invent the branches as I fall."
The book within a book:
"'You don't do magic,' she said, trying to smile modestly and mostly succeeding. 'You are magic.'" - Gemma T. Leslie's Simon Snow
Adult readers will appreciate that the parents in Eleanor & Park are well developed characters with subplots of their own. Her abusive step father and battered mom undercut Eleanor's self confidence while Park struggles to please his macho GI joe dad. My one gripe was that Park's mom wasn't Korean beyond her thick accent. She cooked Midwestern food, decorated her house in suburban style and avoided talking about her childhood in Korea (she met her American husband during the Korean War.) I grew up with several Korean American friends and that culture left an imprint on the whole family and on me (I still crave Joy Kim Slote's scallion pancakes.) Fangirl does a much better job with the Mexican American characters, but they were less central to the narrative. Nonetheless, I was pleased that Rowell had multicultural elements to her books.
Rowell writes in the third person, shifting between Eleanor's and Park's POV:
"She would never belong in Park's living room. She never felt like she belonged anywhere, except when she was lying on her bed, pretending to be somewhere else."
"Holding Eleanor's hand was like holding a butterfly. Or a heartbeat. Like holding something complete, and completely alive."YA author John Green summed it up so well in the NYT: "Eleanor & Park reminded me not just what it's like to be young and in love with a girl, but also what it's like to be young and in love with a book."
Reviewer's Discloser: I bought Eleanor & Park in hardcover at Sherman's Books. I was too eager to wait until Fangirl arrived in Maine bookstores so I bought the ebook on its release date. Then I loved Fangirl so much that I bought a hardcover copy at Longfellow Books to reread later. I was surprised that Fangirl was 438 pages in print since it read like a book half that length. Rowell's Attachments, an office romance debut, is on my TBR list.
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