review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

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Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell is the story of Cath (real name Cather, twin sister is Wren…get it? yeah, their mom wasn’t expecting twins and didn’t want to think of another name), whose anxiety keeps her from really enjoying her freshman year at the University of Nebraska. Daughter of a similarly-diagnosed father (but throw in a little manic just to keep things interesting) and estranged mother, Cath’s saving grace is her twin sister. Unfortunately college brings out the worst in her twin, and she chooses drinking, partying, and silly girlfriends over her sister and their shared love of writing Simon Snow fanfiction. So Cath continues writing by herself. But – unexpectedly to Cath but expected by YA readers – a boy gets in her way. More like two boys.

Levi is the always-smiling kinda-ex-boyfriend of her buxom roommate Reagan. Nick is her writing partner from her upper-level fiction-writing course. She is uniquely attracted to both, but denies her feelings because she’d rather spend her evenings and free time with the fictional Simon and Baz, characters from a fictional Harry Potter-like series whom she has re-written to be gay. The fictional fanfiction segments have as much typical Rainbow Rowell wit as the actual novel:

Simon spends the entire fifth book following Baz around and describing his eyes. It’s like a thesaurus entry for ‘gray’.

Cath writes about the two boys’ interactions and feelings so well, so intensely, but shies away from her own possible romantic interludes. Even when Levi says things that got my heart racing, she tries to deny her feelings.

I always get lost in the library, he said, no matter how many times I go. In fact, I think I lost there more, the more I go. Like it’s getting to know me and revealing new passages.

This is much more than a story about a college romance, or twin sisters finding their individual identities, or raising your voice over a sea of noise. It’s family, friendship, love, respect, and most importantly…it’s real. Rainbow has done it again. She has written a book that, despite not actually being Cather, I am Cather. And Wren. And Levi, too. Her characters transcend stereotypes and become multi-dimensional people who I feel like I know. Heck, maybe I do.

Read-alikes:
Anything other book by Rainbow Rowell, and Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (despite it being fantasy, complete with dragons and sword fighting).

Recommended for:
Young adult women, fans of fanfiction (I loved reading what Cath went through to publish her stories, and her sense of ownership over them), girls who feel that they are alone. It’s rather empowering, even.

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The book follows Cath’s love of fanfiction, right? So I LOVE that when I Google image search the book and fan art comes up. This one by artist Simini Blocker of Cath and Reagan is just spot-on and I love it. (She drew more of the Fangirl characters and I just adore them all.) More than that, readers are painting their nails in the color scheme of the book’s cover, and baking cakes. I just…I want to do all of it, but I have no one to do it with. 😦

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[Yet another] Side note to Eleanor & Park fans, IDK how I missed this until now but she posted her playlist for the book. Love it!!

review: Escape from Eden by Elisa Nader

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Escape from Eden by Elisa Nader landed on my lap because the (awesome, incredible, book-loving) manager of my library’s Programming Division was in contact with Nader about a possible YA author’s panel program at my library. As any programming librarian (especially those who work with youth) knows, you can’t just say “Yeah, sure!” to every author who wants to visit the library (no matter how much you want to). Time and meeting room space aside, publicly promoting a book you have never read can have bad consequences. So my boss-lady and I decided that we would consider the program only after reading the book. Nader gave us 5 copies of the book, and I cannot wait to meet with the teens who picked up a copy so we can discuss this book! Awesome division manager, move forward with booking her!

Mia is 16 and has lived in Eden – a small religious community set in a fictional South America town – for six years. She has never really liked it, not necessarily hoping for her old life, but just not feeling comfortable or safe as the others do. Then Gabriel and his parents join Eden, and he opens Mia’s eyes to all of the things that aren’t quite right. She sees things she cannot forget, and her desire to get away turns into a desperate need. But she grapples with leaving behind her mother and little brother, and everyone else she loves and wants to protect.

The action scenes are longer than in most YA novels, but I didn’t find myself skipping them. Nader really packed a lot of punch into each scene, especially the ones that got Mia’s heart racing. The more passionate scenes definitely made me a little warm in the neck, but it is tame enough for a YA novel. It was done tastefully, which I appreciate. The chemistry between the two teens as well as Gabriel’s perfect mix of wit and gruff is really what drives the novel. I liked his depth.

Recommended for:
Teen girls and adult women who read YA will be happy they read this. It has the sinister cult leader and his team of bad guys, passion that is always right on the precipice, and a lot of action. I think teen boys may appreciate Mia’s determination and heroics, as well. I’d consider recommending this to the right teen boy.

Read-alikes:
This has a Hunger Games and YA dystopic thing going on, without being set in a different world. Cults have been around for a while, and this is quite reminiscent of the Jonestown massacre of 1978. I watched a documentary on Jonestown a few years ago and thinking of it still gives me chills. I think I’ll forever link that doc with this novel.

Review: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

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I just meant that… I want to be the last person who ever kisses you too….That sounds bad, like a death threat or something. What I’m trying to say is, you’re it. This is it for me.

The story of Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell has all the elements of a typical YA realistic novel. An awkward teen, an alcoholic stepparent, bullying, and more. Nothing new, right?

Wrong. So wrong. So incredibly wrong that Eleanor would just roll her eyes and huff “God” right in your face.

Eleanor is an over-sized girl with extra-frizzy red hair and an eccentric wardrobe, all commingled to create a bully’s dream victim. Eleanor is harassed by the popular kids, by her step-father, and – worst of all – by herself. She questions how Park could like her, even stand her. She is continually shocked that, once again, a day passes without him being disgusted by her presence in his life. Eleanor is a sad, comfortless teen who holds the world at arms length, and my heart broke for her so often throughout the novel.

Thank God she couldn’t make her mouth work right now, because if she could, there’d be no end to the melodramatic garbage she’d say to him. She was pretty sure she’d thank him for saving her life….Which made her feel like the dumbest, weakest girl. If you couldn’t save your own life, was it even worth saving?

Park’s mother is Korean, and moved to America after his Soldier father swept her off her feet. Park is the only Asian kid in Omaha, not unpopular, well-liked, but a bit of a recluse choosing music and comic books over parties. His openness with Eleanor perfectly matched her restraint, making for many awkward moments.

Dumb. He should have gotten the pen. Jewelry was so public…and personal, which was why he’d bought it. He couldn’t buy Eleanor a pen. Or a bookmark. He didn’t have bookmarklike feelings for her.

Rainbow did such a thorough job of describing Eleanor, but I still don’t have a complete picture in my head of her face. I cannot decide if that is Rainbow’s fault or my own. I say my own because, well, the self-hatred that Eleanor has about her body sounds a lot like the self-hate I had for my own for the longest time. Still do occasionally. So maybe instead of seeing Eleanor’s face, I saw my own. Maybe that’s why I had the reaction I did upon finishing the novel.*

Luckily there are artists out there who cannot let another day go by without drawing their interpretation of their beloved characters. Here is one that Rainbow tweeted, from an artist named Simini Blocker:

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Eleanor & Park is a heartbreaking yet laugh-out-loud hilarious novel. Seriously…I haven’t had that many post-its in a book since college. The book is worth reading for many reasons, and Rainbow’s impeccable capturing of the sensitive, poetic, and exhilarating moments of love.

Recommended for:
Everyone. Everyone should read this book. Adults should read it to remember the inner struggle of being a teenager. Teens should read it to develop compassion for others – because a person’s exterior gives no clues as to what their personal life holds.

And you. You should read this book. It is real life. It is what love should look like, not the dramatic parts, but the giving, hopeful, and supportive parts.

Read-alikes:
This reminds me of The Big Crunch by Pete Hautman for its realistic look at young love, and Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler (ill. by Maira Kalman).

 

*I cried those silent, knowing tears of someone who remembers. Someone who is thankful it’s not her, but who empathizes with the person and people that it is a reality for.

Book 77: Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor

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Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor is the sequel to last Fall’s stunning fantasy spin on Romeo & Juliet, Daughter of Smoke & Bone. Karou has no family left, and has reluctantly succumbed to the chimaera leader, the White Wolf, and his small but mighty army. She has taken Brimstone’s task of resurrecting the dead chimaera, in an effort to keep the chimaera race alive and fighting. Meanwhile her former lover, the angel Akiva, has re-joined forces with the seraphs in destroying everything and everyone getting in between them and their enemy, even if the “everyone” includes very innocent bystanders.

This sequel picks up where the first left off, with broken hearts and mis-understandings. The two protagonists do what they must in order to survive and help their own people thrive, but keep thinking about the pact they made to each other, to work together to unite the feuding races.

Laini Taylor proves once more than she is a master crafter of other worlds. What she did for Prague and Elsewhere in Daughters she did for Morocco’s kasbah and the mythical palaces and countryside controlled by the seraph emperor Joram. Readers can feel the desert heat on their backs as Zuzana and Mik follow clues that lead to Karou, and can taste the spices Karou smells on her walk through the Moroccan market.

This book is a stunning follow-up to the first, and set itself up nicely to be continued for a third and final installment next fall. I find myself thinking about Karou and Akiva and the palpable rage that is separated only by a thin wall in the underground where the orphaned-seraph and chimaera are reluctantly joining forces in an attempt to end this war once and for all, and before it passes through the barrier into Earth.

You have only to begin, Lir. Mercy breeds mercy as slaughter breeds slaughter. We can’t expect the world to be better than we make it.

I reviewed the first book in the trilogy last September when I received an ARC (advanced reader copy, for all you non-librarians/book fanatics) from a library patron and friend who runs her own book review blog with her best friend and their kick-butt kids (no seriously, they will all grow up to be rock stars). If you are ever in need of a recommendation for your teen reader, head to their site. They will tell you what you need to know, from the parent’s standpoint. I really respect their objectivity. 

Book 27: I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan

I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan is an emotionally moving novel about Sam and Riddle Border, two boys on the run, racing away from trouble their psychotic father creates in each new town they visit. But teenaged Sam does what he had never done before: he made a friend. And fell in love with her.

Emily is a beautifully composed character. In the beginning of the novel she is just plain normal: so shy she doesn’t want to sing at church; not really into the very handsome Bobby, but allows herself to be convinced she should like him; loves her family but is scared at how they will turn Sam off. But when the time comes for her to grow or collapse, she grows. Though she only goes through the motions of life, she does so with full knowledge that she is doing such. I love Emily’s honesty and her inhibited passion. I want to be friends with her.

Characters aside, the story is a fast and emotive one. Love, anger, pain, desperation, hate…the reader feels all of those due to Sloan’s lack of fluff. I found myself not skipping sentences or paragraphs, which is rare for me. And this being her debut novel says a lot.

I’d like to share a part that, I feel, really captures the writing style and tone of the book (during its less-intense parts). It also captures that moment of first meeting, of reluctance to talk because you’re afraid what will come out, of the before that you can never get back:

“Hey…”
He said “Hey” back.
“And then they graduated to two syllables and then three and then sentences. And then whole ideas and the real expression of thought.

I will be recommending this to young adults and YA-reading adults who like novels that have both meaning and a great story.

Book 5: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Is it too early in the year to say that this might be my favorite book of 2012? Because…I think John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars is my favorite book of 2012.

“Electric…filled with staccato bursts of humor and tragedy,” said Jodi Picoult, author of adult fiction, and a woman who knows a thing or two about plot twists and tearjerkers. (Oh, and damn good writing…) And she is so correct in her description of this novel. Let me explain:

I began reading this book on the morning of Wednesday, January 26th. I was sitting in Starbucks wasting time before my late-morning shift at the library was set to begin. I doctored up my iced coffee to perfection (one Splenda, quite a bit of half-and-half), and proceeded to finish 103 pages in that first sitting. Typical of John Green, he wasted no time in getting the story underway; the real story. So immediately I pity the protagonist, 16 year old Hazel who is slowly dying of lung cancer (and who surely does not want my pity). Then I get a crush on Augustus and his crooked smile and mature yet borderline-pretentious conversational tone and topics. And don’t get me started on the number of embarrassing moments I LOLed in the middle of an oddly silent Starbucks. (The first came on page 24: “I didn’t tell him that the diagnosis came three months after I got my first period. Like: Congratulations! You’re a woman. Now die.”)

I spent the entirety of my 8-hour work day pining after the book, simultaneously wanting to read more about the beautiful love affair between the blunt and simple, yet hilarious Hazel, and her in-remission love interest Augustus, yet scared to finish the book because I just kind of knew that someone was going to die. (It’s a book about teens with cancer who fall in love with each other. I think we all know how that’s going to end…) So when I finally sat down to read the book (after working, weight lifting at the gym, tweeting about the inappropriateness of J.Lo’s belly shirt on Am-Idol, and baking banana bread) at 11pm, I knew I was in for a long night. No way I could go to bed without learning of their fate.

Then I found out and spent a little while crying. Then I went back through the book to pages I had noted on my bookmark and copied down passages I found especially poignant. I will include a couple here:

…and then he broke down, just for one moment, his sob roaring impotent like a clap of thunder unaccompanied by lightning, the terrible ferocity that amateurs in the field of suffering might mistake for weakness. –p.215

Sometimes you read a book and it fills yo with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will neverbe put back together unless and until all living humans read the book. And there are books…which you can’t tell people about, books so special and so rare and yours that advertising your affection feels like a betrayal –p.33

Per the aforementioned quote…I want everyone to read this, I want everyone to discuss this book. It is too big, too discussion-worthy, too inspiring to just have all to myself. (Luckily because it was written by John Green…the man with nearly 2 million Twitter followers…I know I am not reading it alone.)

Please tell me your favorite passage from this novel.

Book 3: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern


This is a book about a circus. Not the Barnum& Bailey variety we have all experienced, but a shades of grey night-time circus. Illusionists, tarot readers, contortionists, themed tents, a hall of mirrors, an icy wonderland that smells of frozen flowers. A dream circus, Le Cirque des Rêves, that appears overnight and departs just as mysteriously.

And that is the setting of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, a beautifully crafted, mysterious love story about Celia and Marco. But the bevy of characters that support the two magicians are just as, if not more, interesting than the lovebirds. Widget, Poppet, and Bailey are wonderful young people who I wish I could know in real life. My heart hurt for Isobel when her own heart was broken. The setting was protrayed perfectly, as I felt the iciness of the ice tent, the heat of the bonfire, the energy in the air when they kissed…

But this book is not without faults. When I am done reading “one of my favorite books ever!”, I realize that I have written down favorite quotes, beautifully written lines, or interesting facts to follow-up on. I did not do any of this with The Night Circus. I was very disappointed when I realized that, while descriptive and memorable, the book was not outstanding. In this instance, the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts.