Most people under thirty (and many people over thirty) are edgy these days; our soft, organic, human curves honed to sharpness by the razor edges of technology. Most of us are subtly (or drastically) changed by the way we receive information. Our minds are edgy, as television and movies are edgy – jumping from thought to thought, chore to chore, channel to channel. Rainbow Rowell is edgy, too, and so is her writing. Rowell manages to skim along that razor with skill, keeping pace with the new way we think. Her writing seems effortless. Her fiction is fresh, exciting, and fun, along with being edgy. It’s also very, very real.
Fangirl (St. Martin’s Griffen, 2013) is a fairly straightforward story – twin sisters go to college. Each of them finds their own way. They have boyfriends, make new friends, work hard, make mistakes, etc. The rub comes as the sister’s co-dependent relationship crumbles. Cath, the painfully shy main character, is stretched to her limit as her sister Wren abandons her for her new friends. Cath, as she has since she was a teen, copes by burying herself in the world of fiction, particularly the fictional world of Simon Snow: reading it, writing fan fiction, and using it as an escape mechanism. Rowell weaves Cath’s story together with the fictional story of Simon Snow, and then throws in snippets of the fan fiction that Cath writes as well. Taken together, it’s a kaleidoscope of a story, a hall of mirrors in which one plot line is mirrored in another story, and again in another, distorted a bit each time. All of this is sewed together so seamlessly, it’s hard to see the skill involved in making this story sing.
But sing it does. Rainbow Rowell is writing great fiction, with great characters, great plot, and a sincere message. Somehow, she gets it just right. The characters shine as individuals; none of them perfect, all of them human and recognizable as facets of ourselves. There is enough movement to sweep you along, enough jumping to keep you tensed and ready to spring, enough humanity to grab hold of your compassion and tug you away from your own world into that of the characters.
If you are a fan of John Green (The Fault in Our Stars), you’ll likely enjoy anything written by Rainbow Rowell - they have similar messages and writing styles, and they use unconventional and powerful tools in their story telling that makes them interesting to read for people who have grown up in the digital age.
Rainbow Rowell succeeded in making Eleanor & Park one of the best written YA novels of 2013, and she succeeds again with Fangirl. I recommend it for anyone fourteen and up.