I just finished reading Carry On, literally seconds ago. And just before that, I had the pleasure of reading Stand Off. Not only were these the two best YA books I’ve read in ages, but they were just two of the best books I’ve read. Ever. Full-stop.
Nobody out there can touch Cannonball favorite Rainbow Rowell and Andrew “my Cannonball boyfriend” Smith right now, as far as I’m concerned.
Many people have touted Carry On before me. And I”ll gladly jump on that bandwagon, waving my Rainbow flag.
I’ll admit, I was nervous about this book. The Simon Snow parts of Fangirl were not my favorite. I was afraid that this was going to be the book that finally disappointed me. And unsure about the whole meta-ness of a book about a book in a book. But my god. I loved this damn book. I loved every single thing about it. Except for the fact that it had to end.
From the first handful of pages — when Penelope says that she likes wearing magical capes with her school uniform because it makes her feel like Stevie Nicks — I was all in. The characters, the plot, the magic and the “normal” all together was simply perfection.
Rowell’s ability to write real dialogue and thoughts is simply amazing. Taking something as mundane as:
…I wish I knew what he was thinking…
I don’t know what I’m thinking.
and giving it heat and emotion and making every single person who has ever fallen in love know exactly how both characters are feeling? So great.
Even Rowell’s throw-away lines and descriptions are little treasures, like when Simon first met Baz’s brothers and sisters:
They all look like Baz’s stepmum: dark hair, but not black like Baz’s, with round cheeks and those Billie Piper mouths that don’t quite close over their front teeth.
Or when Agatha finds herself in the Mage’s messy office:
…There are books everywhere, in stacks and lying open. There are pages ripped out and taped all over one wall. (Not taped — stuck to the wall with spells.) (And this is exactly the sort of thing I’m sick of. Like, just use some tape. Why come up with a spell for sticking paper to the wall? Tape. Exists.)…
Really, the only writer out there who comes even close to breathing life into characters like this is Andrew Smith. You may remember how I ranted and raved about the heart-wrenching Winger earlier this year. That book made me ugly cry. And I loved it for its beauty and its honesty. Stand Off is the sequel to Winger.
Did Winger need a sequel? Maybe not. It had a strong ending. But I was so happy to come back to Ryan Dean’s world, to make sure that he was OK. I really just wanted to check in on him, give him a hug, tell him I was here if he needed me.
And poor Ryan Dean. He was not OK. Stand Off is all about his senior year at Pine Mountain boarding school, his relationship with his beautiful girlfriend, Annie, and the aftermath of last year’s vicious hate crime.
Ryan Dean makes terrible mistakes in his day-to-day life. But he knows it. He has panic attacks at night. He’s losing weight. He’s terrible to his new roommate, and things aren’t going great with Annie. But how does a teenage boy get over the death of his best friend?
The dialogue is real, and my favorite bits are when Andrew Smith just lets Ryan Dean go on a rant, just like a real teenager would.
Okay. So, you know how when sometimes a person who you think is an okay guy tells you something you know he’s been holding inside for a long time and it makes you feel really bad for him and you try to think of a thousand things you could do or say to make him feel better, but there’s just nothing you can do at all — which is why I now understood how none of the rugby boys at dinner wanted to talk to Nico — so you just feel awkward and sad and stupid because you really think the other guy (who you think is an okay guy) probably just needs a hug from a friend and to hear a friend tell him “none of this bullshit matters,” but you don’t think you can do anything like that, so you just keep your hands in your pockets and you say nothing and you feel like a massive pile of shit and you know he feels like shit and there’s, like, this huge, incredible, growing shit supernova swallowing you up and making you both feel so terrible and you’re not really looking where you’re going because it’s dark and you’ve just cut through the woods and your toe gets stuck beneath a goddamned tree root (screw you, goddamned tree) and you fall down in wet tree mulch and get a cigarette butt stuck to your forehead because your hands were in your pockets and this happened to be the — air quotes — assembly hall — end air quotes — for the Pine Mountain Nicotine Club and then the guy you think is an okay guy is laughing, and that makes you feel better, because of all of the things you thought about that might make him not feel so shitty, gravity was not on that list?
Yeah. That’s what happened.
And screw you, gravity.
Not as heart-breaking as Winger, but still lovely. This book made me laugh and cry. Just like real life.
Seriously, if you aren’t reading Rainbow Rowell yet, what can I say? What’s wrong with you? GET THEE TO A LIBRARY! And Andrew Smith? So good. Go out and read Grasshopper Jungle before the movie comes out. His books are crazy and amazing and non-stop everything.
You can read more of my reviews — chock full of books by both Rowell and Smith — on my blog.