Book review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: AmazonTBDGoodreads
Publication Date: September 10, 2013
Source: Purchased

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan…

But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words… And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

The whole thing is sort of spoilery, so proceed with caution!

I don’t even know what to say about Fangirl. I finished it last night and my head is still spinning from how great it was.

• I related to Cath so much. I’ve never seen someone describe social anxiety as well as Rainbow. My favorite quote from the entire book is probably “In new situations, all the trickiest rules are the ones nobody bothers to explain to you. (And the ones you can’t Google.)” Where does the line start? How do you pay? Can you just get up and leave if you need to use the bathroom during class? What do you do in the morning if all the showers are taken? Can you shower on a different floor? Do you have to be a law major to use the law library? Rainbow gets it, and she’s written an entire amazing book around it.
• Rainbow created an entire fandom – eight books and fanfiction about those books. I wish Simon Snow was a real thing because I would totally read it. It’s like a sassy Harry Potter with awesomely ridiculous spells (Olly olly oxen free! Up up and away! Presto chango!).
• Unlike a lot of readers, I really appreciated that Cath didn’t have a beautiful resolution with her mother. I thought Cath’s reaction was realistic and refreshing. In so many books, the absent parent comes back and everything is immediately better. As someone who’s had an absent parent nearly my entire life, I can honestly say that I would react exactly the same way that Cath did.
• Similarly, I appreciated that Cath completely cut off ties with Nick when she found out he was using her. Nick was a charming jerk like so many college boys, and too many books excuse charming jerks of their behavior because they’re charming. I loved it when Cath and her friends kicked Nick out of the dorm. I loved that she stood her ground and refused to attach her name to their story.
• And yeah, Levi was a good character. I’m not as in love with him as a lot of Fangirl’s fandom, but he was a good guy.

• The only thing I can say that I didn’t like was the sudden resolution of all the problems between Cath and Wren. I thought it was completely unrealistic that you could go from not even speaking for almost an entire semester to being best friends again over the course of days. But then again, I don’t have a twin sister, so it’s possible that I don’t understand the dynamics of their relationship. And this isn’t to say that I didn’t want them to make up. I’m so glad that they did because Wren seems to make Cath more grounded and less anxious and Cath seems to pull Wren back from the edge and keep her from spiraling out of control. I just wish it would have happened slowly rather than all at once.

All in all, this book was awesome. I want to go out and buy the rest of Rainbow’s books and devour them this weekend.

Permanent Record :: Leslie Stella

Title: Permanent Record
Author: Leslie Stella
Read: 10/25/13-10/28/13
Obtained via: free ARC from publisher
Stars: 3/5

I’m torn about Permanent Record, I really am. I should have loved it, but I didn’t. Some parts I enjoyed and some parts I didn’t. I’m so conflicted.

Badi Hessamizadeh is an Iranian-American teenager living in Chicago. He’s been bullied a lot for his ethnicity and sort of quirky personality. His family doesn’t seem to care, thinking he should just focus on his studies rather than concerning himself with how other kids see him, and everything just snowballs – to the point where he blows up a toilet to get back at the jocks who abuse him. Add to this a suicide attempt, and his father realizes something needs to change. Mr. Hessamizadeh changes Badi’s name to Bud Hess and enrolls him in Magnificat Academy, a private school, to give him a fresh start.

Things look like they might be different for Bud at Magnificat. He makes a couple friends, Nikki and Reggie, right off the bat, and even joins the school newspaper. But things soon start spinning out of control as Bud refuses to participate in the school chocolate bar fundraiser (I remember these from my time in Catholic high school), the school newspaper starts getting anonymous letters calling for rebellion, and the Magnificat jocks learn of Bud’s real name and the problems he had at his old school.

Spoilers ahead!
I had no problem with this part of the story. The writing was fine, but not spectacular, and the plot moved along slowly but steadily. I liked Nikki and Reggie and was proud of Bud for making some real friends. But then, seemingly out of nowhere, Bud makes plans to bomb this new school too. Not a huge toilet bomb, but just enough to shock everybody. Of course, as all good protagonists must do, he decides against it at the last minute, severely injuring himself in an effort to remove the bomb from the premises. He’s then placed on suicide watch again, and for me, the whole book went downhill and wrapped up too quickly and too neatly.

There were several things in the story that I liked – Bud’s relationship with Dariush, the way Bud’s depression and anxiety were described (in a non-judgmental way), and when Bud got to be the hero with Nikki when they broke into the school, to name a few. But there were also things I didn’t like and didn’t think fit the story or added anything to the plot. These were things like the Bud-Nikki-Reggie love triangle. It just added unnecessary, boring drama. And though I liked Viola at first, I felt that her character did a complete 180 throughout the story and turned from someone relatable to someone I wouldn’t even want to know. Making her the source of the anonymous letters seemed out of character for her (though I knew it was coming), and I found it unlikely that she would let Bud take the heat for it, knowing what it’s like to be an outcast. I don’t think that she would have continued to write the letters knowing that Bud was getting in trouble for it. By the end of the book, it seemed like I was reading about a different character entirely.

In the end, I’d give the book 3/5. It’s not terrible, but it’s not awesome either. It’s a quick read and I don’t regret spending those few hours on it.

[Also posted here.]

Beneath the Bleak New Moon :: Debra Purdy Kong

TitleBeneath the Bleak New Moon
Author: Debra Purdy Kong
Read: 10/17/13-10/24/13
Obtained via: free ARC from the author
Stars: 2/5 (I’m being generous)

I thought the book started off with a bang. Teenage twins causing a ruckus on the bus when the unthinkable happens – a hit and run murder in front of way too many witnesses. Witnesses can only come up with vague details, so the guy isn’t caught. Another hit and run happens soon after. Suspense.

The first part of the book kept me on the edge of my seat. It started to decline midway through. I liked Danielle at first, but her character’s daredevil attitude escalated so quickly that she became an entirely unrealistic character. The twins were enjoyable characters for a little while, but their story quickly began to play on repeat as Casey threatened to tell their mom what they were doing and they begged her not to. I could have done without the Greg/Tina drama (though I didn’t read the first two books in this series, so maybe I would care more if I had) and the whole issue of whether or not Casey was going to sell the house. The pacing was very uneven – we have basically an entire chapter of Casey literally chasing the twins, but the whole story is wrapped up over the course of about two pages. Don’t even get me started on the constant mention of Casey’s Tercel…

All in all, for the problems I could have with a book, these are relatively minor. It’s far from the worst book I’ve read recently. I was engaged enough to keep reading, but I don’t feel compelled to read the rest of the books in the series.

[Also posted here.]


Title: Margot
Author: Jillian Cantor
Obtained via: free ARC from author/publisher

I wasn’t expecting to like the book as much as I did. Don’t get me wrong – I thought it sounded interesting and I knew I’d like it. I just didn’t know how much. I went in without much knowledge of Anne Frank’s life. Of course, I knew the basics, the hiding, the annex, the camps. But I’d never read her diary, never seen the movie. It didn’t matter. I was attached to Margot, to Margie, by page two. She jumped off the page as a fully developed, living, breathing character.

Spoilers after the break

Her struggles at work, hiding her Jewishness while working for Jewish lawyers, felt real, as did her constant efforts to convince herself that burning the Shabbat candle was purely routine and not at all religious. I could feel her longing for Peter and her desire to be closer to Joshua. I breathed a sigh of relief when we found out that P. Pelt was not in fact Peter, married to an American woman, but Petra Pelt, a divorcee trying to raise a child on her own. But then I was crushed when Margie (and I) realized that meant Peter was most likely dead. I was on edge, just as Margie was, when Bryda came into the office and made her thinly veiled accusations that Margie might not be who she says she is. And I almost cried from happiness and relief for Margot when she finally decided to reveal her true self to Joshua – and he accepted her as she was. 

Margot is an exceptionally well-written piece of historical fiction.

[Also posted here.]