Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Review: FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell
I don't know if everyone has this experience with reading YA literature, but a lot of the books I read don't feel real. There's something in them that keeps them disconnected from life as I, personally, know it. Usually it's tropes of American high school that don't exist for me in real life, as I'm Canadian. Homecoming. Sadie Hawkins dances. Pep rallies. I find those things alienating. I know what they're like because I've read so many books that include them, but I don't have any real connection there. I find a lot of YA romance to be isolating, too, because I had my first kiss at eighteen and got into my first real relationship a year ago, when I was twenty-one. Still in that relationship. I'm having all my "firsts" as an adult, so reading about fifteen-year-olds having them feels unrealistic a lot of the time.
FANGIRL is not one of those "unreal" books.
Even though it's set in an American college, yet another of those things that feels distant to me, FANGIRL feels like the story of my life, in a lot of ways. I wrote Harry Potter fanfiction for a few years in my early teens and even after I started writing original stories, I went through my teens feeling like Cath. The lame, dorky exception-to-every-rule. The weird basement gremlin who prefers writing about life to living it, and secretly resents everyone else for having what I supposedly didn't. Really, I was making choices that kept myself isolated. But I didn't really know any better, so I forgive myself. And like Cath, I wrote stories about gay boys -- I was obsessed with unavailable men because that way they couldn't hurt me.
I related to Cath's story so much, especially the Levi aspect. Rainbow Rowell doesn't resort to romance writing clichés and shorthands. Instead of wallowing in the hero's eye colour or rippling pectoral muscles, she instead writes about his unconventionally attractive traits. A receding hairline. A wide forehead. A small mouth. Levi isn't just anyone's hunk but he's attractive to Cath. He isn't the strong, brooding silent type. He's an extrovert and has trouble with book learning, rather than being a genius scholar like so many love interests. As their relationship progresses, Cath revels in parts of him that are special to her and only her. His chin is her favourite part of him.
I adored this. This is what loving someone is to me: appreciating the small things that make this person different and special to you. Like Levi, my boyfriend isn't a conventional heartthrob, but I wouldn't change his crooked teeth or wild eyebrows for the world. Rainbow Rowell really gets that feeling like I feel a lot of authors don't.
There's absolutely nothing cliché about this book. Rowell never takes the easy way out in her writing. I can't freaking wait to read more from her.