Saturday, 28 June 2014



Rainbow Rowell
"Cath and Wren are identical twins, and until recently they did absolutely everything together. Now they're off to university and Wren's decided she doesn't want to be one half of a pair any more - she wants to dance, meet boys, go to parties and let loose. It's not so easy for Cath. She's horribly shy and has always buried herself in the fan fiction she writes, where she always knows exactly what to say and can write a romance far more intense than anything she's experienced in real life.

Without Wren Cath is completely on her own and totally outside her comfort zone. She's got a surly room-mate 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."

   I started out absolutely loving this book. It’s the story of twin sisters Cath and Wren who are taking the first steps toward adulthood by moving out of their childhood home to go to University.
   Having roomed together their entire lives Cath is surprised when her sister tells her that she doesn’t want to be roommates anymore leaving Cath, the more introverted and socially awkward of the two, to fend for herself.

   What makes the book so interesting is Cath herself. She is obsessed with a book series about boy wizard Simon Snow, an obvious play on the Harry Potter series and writes fanfiction about the series, garnering quite the following online.
   I absolutely loved this part of her character. I never thought I’d ever read a novel where fanfiction plays an important role, it’s simply not a subject matter that you’d expect to see in a mainstream release. Especially not slash fiction, a genre of fanfiction where two normally heterosexual characters in a series are paired off in a romantic relationship.
   In the novel, Cath pairs of Simon Snow with his roommate and rival Baz.
    What’s really interesting about the fanfiction side of the story is that, online, Cath has a huge following. Thousands of people read her work everyday. This created an interesting duology between her online life and real life where she’s so introverted that she’s afraid to visit the cafeteria alone.

   Between each chapter is a short section, either from Cath’s fanfiction of the Simon Snow series itself. These sections aren’t great, they occasionally tie into the plot itself though the connection is often tenuous at best, however they do give the reader a decent understanding of the Simon Snow universe which is much needed to help you relate to Cath’s love of the universe.

    Aside from the fanfiction element, the novel is a fairly typical coming of age romance. Cath is quickly introduced to her roommate’s friend Levi who, of course, she falls madly in love with.
    Despite risking running into cliché territory, the romance and characters all feel pretty natural. The characters are all flawed in some way and feel pretty well rounded. It’s a style similar to John Green’s work though it never quite reaches the same level in my opinion. But with both the main characters and Wren, I found elements of their personalities I liked, others I disliked and some I could relate to personally.
   Not all characters fair too well (I kept waiting for Cath’s roommate Reagan to actually become a character instead of just a presence, which never happened) but most are well-rounded and enjoyable.

    Unfortunately, just after halfway through the book, something happened and I just hit a wall. Somewhere along the line I just got totally sick of Cath and her constant self pity. She’s so neurotic that she’ll wander the hallways for an hour before going to see her professor and shut herself in her room for weeks eating nothing but protein bars so she won’t have to go outside, but everyone in the novel just indulges her.
   Want to stay in for weeks on end? No problem Cath, I’ll try not to wake you when I get home. So neurotic about your relationship that you won’t let your boyfriend touch your shoulder, let alone kiss you? No problem Cath, I’ll just sit over here on the other couch. Can’t be bothered to write the short story that makes up half your grade? No problem Cath, take another six months to write it instead of the six weeks the rest of your class gets.
   People continually hand her things and she continually shakes them off and continues to moan about her lot in life as if the world grinding to a halt on her behalf is an inconvenience to her. She constantly causes problems in her own life and acts as if she’s somehow the victim, like the scene where she basically swears off fiction writing forever because her lecturer won’t let her submit fanfiction for one of her assessments.

   All of this goes on and on and you constantly wait for the moment where she realises she’s in the wrong, but it never comes. The world keeps making exceptions for her and indulging her and it became incredibly frustrating to read, to the point where I struggled to finish the book.

   There’s some really great stuff here, it gives a voice to a subset of fandom that is absolutely huge, but never gets any representation in mainstream media and has an enjoyable style, however the problems I had with Cath herself left a really bad taste in my mouth and ruined the experience for me towards the end of the book.
   If you’re a fan of YA contemporary in general or Harry Potter or fanfiction in particular I’d recommend giving this one a go, but expect some frustration along the way.

Rainbow Rowell
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