So after the sarcasm fire of my last review, I need to applaud that this book ostensibly written for young adults had a more realistic picture of romantic relationships than The Glass Ocean – a more “literary” historical fiction – did.
Our hero Cath develops relationships that are more complex than “buhh I luhh him,” in ways that are recognizable to actual humans. (Can not stand books that insist that a character loves another without showing the reader why they are. Beauty is not a character trait.) Her non-relationship with high school boyfriend Abel continues out of momentum and conflict avoidance – there’s no reason to break up, so who cares that there’s no reason to stay together? She develops a crush on a classmate due to shared interests and a mutual love of writing, which they do well together. She begrudgingly comes to love her roommate and her boyfriend despite her social awkwardness and their initial teasing. She has difficulty with her twin asserting independence, in part because said twin makes some questionable life choices in the doing. Rowell writes these characters and relationships effortlessly – these are people wonderful in their flaws.
And I haven’t even touched the fan fiction.
Cath’s real relationship until the above interpersonal ties blossom is with Simon Snow and his nemesis roommate Basil, fictional magicians she writes fan fiction about. I read “her” fan fiction first – Rowell’s book Carry On was a spin off from this one – and I can’t remember loving a book so quickly or thoroughly in recent memory. It made it easy to understand how Cath could reject the real world for that fictional one as it was utterly charming. Rowell never demeans Cath for her escapism though; her relationship with her fictional world is never diminished for being fictional. Even as it’s shown to be something of a coping mechanism, Cath’s retreat into fiction she can control is both understandable and healthier than the drinking, flirting, and disengagement, and abdication of responsibility of her friends and relatives.
I loved it. Read the damn book.