Tag Archives: book reviews

Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

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Five out of Five Stars

I can’t think of any words powerful enough to adequately express how much I loved Fangirl, but I’m going to spend the rest of this review trying to find them.

Rainbow Rowell’s second young adult novel follows reticent Cath through her freshman year of college as she copes with social anxiety, a suddenly distant twin sister, balancing her fanfiction writing career with her Fiction Writing class, boys who smile too much, and boys who lie too much.  There’s more too – child abandonment, mental instability, alcohol abuse, romance.  It comes together to form one of the best contemporary novels I’ve ever read.  Seriously.  It’s up there with my favorite of favorites, Anna and the French Kiss.  Possibly higher.

I think this is primarily because of how natural everything felt.  Even the heavier topics I mentioned above manage to fit organically into the plot without ever overtaking the story. It’s not a novel about alcohol abuse or family problems or anxiety.  It’s about Cath.  All those issues just happen to be part of her life.

That naturalness applies to the characters as well.  No matter how sparsely or frequently they appear, every single one of them seems just as real as anyone I’ve met during my own first year of college; as if (to use a phrase from the book) they were about to “evolve right off the page.”  That goes for everyone from Cath’s twin sister Wren, to her snarky roommate Reagan, to Levi the ever-friendly Starbucks employee who always seems to be hanging around their room.

The relationships between all these characters, too, were gorgeously built.  They grew slowly and honestly.  No snap friendships or instant romance to be found here.  Everything took time (sometimes, given Cath’s trust issues, quite a bit of time).

This is usually where I might add in a however or but; where I might comment on something that bugged me or didn’t exactly work.  Hard as I search my mind, though, I can’t think of one negative thing to say about Fangirl.  Not one.

So, instead, I’ll talk about something that could have gone badly, but didn’t.  Really, really didn’t.

Much of the story centers around a made-up, Harry Potter-esque book series that Cath has not only adored since childhood, but for which she’s spent the last two years penning a novel-length fanfiction.  I was skeptical at first of how Rowell would handle the fact that her main character was devoting a good chunk of her thoughts to books and characters with whom her readers would be unfamiliar.

It wasn’t a problem.  Namely, because she made sure readers would be familiar with the Simon Snow world-within-a-world she’d created.  Throughout the novel, Rowell separates sections with excerpts from both the Simon Snow books themselves and Cath’s Simon Snow fanfiction.  This too somehow seemed perfectly natural and necessary; partly because these segments often had something to do with what was happening in Cath’s life, and partly because they provided proof of Cath’s passion for writing.  Rowell doesn’t simply say that her main character is a writer.  She shows her to be one.  And, just as importantly, Rowell gives her readers the opportunity to care about Simon Snow, and so to understand why Cath does.  (For the record, I miss Simon and Baz right now just as much as I do Cath and Levi.)

On that note, I happen to be a mild (by which I mean obsessed) fanfiction addict, but I hope I haven’t given the impression that you have to be a fangirl yourself to enjoy this book.  You don’t.  Fandom culture is certainly an element of the story, but, like the alcohol and abandonment plot lines,  it never overpowers the narrative.

I’m still not sure I managed to express how much I enjoyed this book, but I’ll leave at this: Read Fangirl.  It’s well written, quirky, deep, and definitely worth both the time and bookshelf space.

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Review: Sweet Evil by Wendy Higgins

Sweet Evil (The Sweet Trilogy, #1)

Three and a Half out of Five Stars

I stored Sweet Evil by Wendy Higgins away on my “to-read” list in May 2012.  I didn’t end up reading past its first page until October 2013.  There was no particular reason for this wait.  It was just that book that kept slipping down my list, losing its place to long-awaited sequels, school assignments, and whim reads of the moment.

But I wasn’t feeling well the other day, and, (once I’d thoroughly secured my place as most boring college student on the planet by getting into bed at 9:30 on a Friday night), I finally decided to download it to my Kindle.

I didn’t turn off my reading light until 3:00 AM.

Sweet Evil follows good-girl Anna Whitt through the ups and downs of high school, romance, friendship – and the discovery that she’s the product of an angel-demon relationship.

The mythology of Sweet Evil was what first attracted me to it, and it didn’t disappoint. Higgins creates a world in which demons live among us in secret, cajoling humans into lapses of sin and misery, and their own Nephilim children into carrying on the family business.  Although not a heavy read by any means, Sweet Evil definitely has a bit of cultural relevance. The paranormal plotline didn’t live in its own vortex, separated from everyday life.

The characters worked in the novel’s favor for the most part, as well.  It was easy to see Anna (the sheltered, human-raised daughter of Substance Abuse) and Kaidan’s (the son of Lust) respective backgrounds in their personalities.  Kaiden especially, although I initially worried he’d fall into the familiar mold of dark, handsome, cocky paranormal love interest, pulled at my heart.  Mostly for empathy-related reasons.  Partly because he, well, completely lives up to his heritage.  As Anna thought upon meeting him, he’s “HOTT” – too hot for merely one “t.” (That goes for the content of the book as well, by the way.  Definitely a more mature young adult novel.)

There were moments when Anna seemed a bit inconsistent to me, but, for the most part, I thought she made a likable protagonist.  Perhaps not always the most believable – her wavering between temperance and self-indulgence grew a bit inconsistent at times — but sympathetic.  She flickered from resolving to save her virginity for a committed relationship to attempting to sleep with Kaidan (who has no choice but to be about as uncommitted as a guy can get).  From resisting alcohol into giving into her dad’s demands that she learn more about it.  Sure, there were reasons for both those cases.  They just, like several other plot points, seemed sort of contrived.

Now for the minor characters.  No complaints over Kai and Anna’s friends – they were all fairly fleshed out.  Patti, Anna’s adopted mother, irked me a bit more, as did Anna’s biological father Belial (AKA the demon in charge of Substance Abuse).  It felt at points like Higgins was simply using them to carry the plot into a particular direction, rather than paying attention to character development.

Like when overprotective Patti agrees to send her daughter on a cross-country road trip with a Nephilim boy she’s met exactly once.  Another justified, but contrived plot point.

Nevertheless, the only real problem I have with Sweet Evil has more to do with organization than anything.  The road trip between Kai and Anna — as forced as its beginning felt – actually worked fairly well for the first half of the novel.  The twinges of insta-love lingering around their first meetings bugged me, but the road trip solidified a believable bond between them.  Then the second half of the novel came.  They returned home; Kaidan to the “work” his father forces on him (he gave me so many more Finnick Odair feels than I ever thought possible), Anna to her adoptive mother.  Then to learning more about her own responsibilities as a member of the Nephilim.  This, too, in itself, worked in terms of plot and even character development.  It just felt like it came from a different book.  The first and second halves of Sweet Evil seemed very much divided from one another.  I almost wish that Higgins could have found a way to expand on each and actually turn each half into its own novel – but, at the same time, that would likely have added a good deal of unnecessary bulk.

The latter half of Sweet Evil might not have seemed as separate from the first to me if Higgins hadn’t chosen to introduce a love triangle.  The needless staple of the young adult romance genre.  Still, it wasn’t the triangle itself that I disliked.  It actually made sense that Kopano would feel a pull towards Anna, and she to him.  And they had much more in common,  if not nearly as much chemistry, than she’s had so far with Kaidan.  Yet, as realistic and understated as it was, the love triangle was still jarring.  Jarring and unnecessary.  Maybe the next book will show its purpose, but, at the moment, I wish that Higgins had chosen to focus on developing friendship between Kope and Anna, rather than possible romance.

Tropes and occasional forcedness aside, Sweet Evil was a fingers-glued-to-the-book, swoon-worthy read.  I doubt I’ll reread it any time soon, but I’ll definitely get my hands on the sequel at some point.  And, hopefully, it will take me far less than a year this time.

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