I’ve been holding off on reading this and Kindred Spirits because I don’t want to live in a world without an undiscovered Rainbow Rowell book. I love her writing that much. And it is because of the Cannonball Read that I even know she exists. It’s astounding to me that something as good as Fangirl or Attachments or any number of other great novels could exist at the same time as me, and I wouldn’t just know about them because of some vague, shared cultural memory. Like Don Quixote. I’ve never read Don Quixote, and I can’t point to any time in which I learned about the character or his adventures, but I’ve somehow absorbed the basic premise of the novel simply from being a part of Western culture. Maybe I’m being hyperbolic – I certainly am – but Rainbow Rowell’s books should have attained that level of cultural permeation by now.
If you find yourself having never read Rainbow Rowell, and speaking as someone who was in that same position a year ago, I honestly can’t recommend her enough. And she is consistently among the most popular and widely read writers in this community, so I’m not alone in this. And like many of the readers here, I carry her novels around in the back of my brain, and their memories provide me with the warm tenderness of old friendships half-remembered.
So I’ve been anxiously refraining from reading this. From what I understand, all she has in the pipeline is a screen adaptation of Eleanor & Park and a comic book that she’s working on. The former excites me because I loved the book, but I’m largely indifferent to the latter (though I will read it). So it’s safe to say that it’ll be awhile before we get a new novel from her. Which leaves this and Kindred Spirits as the oases I’ll need to survive this drought in her writing.
Beyond that, however…..it’s just, I don’t get fanfiction. I’ve said it before. I understand wanting to continue the adventures of your favorite characters – but re-imagining your favorite characters as a gay romance? That just doesn’t compute. Not in the sense that I’m turned off by it – I just don’t get why it’s necessary. But, I also don’t get why straight people are fascinated by homosexuality, generally. For instance, a female co-worker of mine was indifferent to a new hire until she found out he was gay. He quickly became her favorite person, and I can’t help but feel that her quick turn-around was due largely to his being gay. I just….don’t get it.
But I digress. The idea of reading a faux-fanfiction analogue of Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy just left me scratching my head. I found those parts of Fangirl to be the least interesting, as well. So to have a whole book of nothing but that? That’s why it kept getting shuffled to the bottom of my Rainbow pile of books.
In a way, though, I’m glad I waited. Returning to Rainbow Rowell’s writing is like running into an old girlfriend. Is it going to be awkward? Will I slip right back into the old comforts of a now unfamiliar comfort, or will the passage of time have robbed me of the enjoyment I used to find so natural?
Well, now that I’ve actually read the book, I can say that this is simultaneously so much more than fanfiction, and yes, Rainbow Rowell’s writing is just as good as I remembered it to be.
I do have some minor complaints about the book. *Swipe for spoilers* Half the novel sees Simon Snow apathetically linked to classmate Agatha, only to suddenly realize that he’s gay and in love with Baz. I just didn’t buy it. It seemed like too sudden a switch for the character. Maybe this is a reflection of my overall problem with romance writing, but Rowell has handled romance, in all its many forms, so well in her writing, that I don’t think that’s the case. Maybe it’s a product of this quasi-fanfiction root of the novel? I don’t know. But this entire part of the book left me with a perpetually arched eyebrow. I also found Agatha to be kind of a pointless character, apart from her role in the aforementioned relationship with Snow. She largely exists to…..inform Simon that his interests lie elsewhere from the place he assumes them to be? I guess?
But, undoubtedly, the biggest problem I have with this book is that it’s the final book in a series we’ll never get to read. I think this works as a stand alone novel, and the denouement wasn’t anti-climatic for the story told here, but there is a lot of effort made to reference past events that we never get to experience. That’s a shame, though I don’t fault Rowell for not writing all those books. I legitimately want to read them, however. The character and the world are interesting, and are different enough from Harry Potter that I don’t think the series would feel like a re-tread.
Anyway. With much initial trepidation, I loved this book. Maybe not as much as Eleanor & Park or Attachments, but it was just as enjoyable a read as I expect from her.
Reviewed 15 times for the CBR, with average rating of 4.22.