Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Author Profile: Rainbow Rowell (4 mini book reviews)

I was introduced to Rainbow Rowell (what an awesome name, right?)'s work when John Green wrote a review of her second novel Eleanor & Park. I am a fan of Green's work and have read and enjoyed other books he's recommended in videos and blog posts, so I thought I'd give this one a try.

this is the edition I have
this is the edition I wish I had... so beautiful!
Eleanor & Park is a love story set in the 1980s between Eleanor, the new girl in school who doesn't fit in because she's overweight, dresses strangely, and is poor; and Park, a shy, quiet, half-Korean, rich boy. It sounds cliché but what makes the book great is that all the elements are familiar and yet the story feels brand new. The characters are so well-developed. I especially loved the character of Eleanor. I have never read a character like her, especially in YA. A lot of contemporary YA and even the books I read when I was young (Meg Cabot, Ann Brashares) have some strong female characters, but none like Eleanor. She is not nerdy, she is not 'awkwardly skinny', she is not a seemingly normal girl who would fit in except that she loves reading too much. I found her character, and this book refreshing. Rowell writes amazingly detailed and realistic characters and she also excels at dialogue. As the relationship between the two characters develops you get totally sucked into the book. It is very emotional as you are rooting for the two young people to be together but life gets in the way.   I absolutely loved it and immediately wanted more. More from the characters, more work from this author..

So I bought Rowell's debut novel from 2011, Attachments. This one is not a young adult novel. It is contemporary fiction set in the early 1990s. It takes place in an office and follows the friendship of two women, Beth and Jennifer, and the IT guy, Lincoln, who reads their e-mails. Lincoln's job is to run the program that monitors employee e-mail and one of Beth and Jennifer's e-mails gets flagged for containing an inappropriate word. The women receive a warning e-mail but assume that a robot sent it, so they don't stop sending personal e-mails at work and Lincoln keeps reading them and begins to fall in love with one of the women. 
It sounds like a creepy premise for a book but you read the e-mails along with Lincoln, and that's how you get to know the characters, so the book makes you fall in love with them through the e-mails as well.
This book reminded me of a book I read when I was a child that I loved but forgot about. I looked it up. It is P.S. Longer Letter Later  by Paula Danziger and Ann M. Martin (of Babysitter's Club fame) This book followed two best friends (each author wrote as one of the girls) who keep in touch through letters after one of them moves away. The book is written entirely in letters and was my first experience with that format as well as my first experience with co-authors. It was lovely to be reminded of this blast from the past.
In Attachments I found again that Rowell's characters were well fleshed out, realistic, and the story was simple but kept you interested.

Landline came out this summer and my parents got it for me for my birthday. (Thanks, Mom and Dad!) I read the second half in one sitting on the deck one afternoon, because I just couldn't put it down. There is something about this author, I just get pulled in.
This novel is another contemporary adult fiction one, but it is actually set in the present! (sort of.)
The main character, Georgie, is a sitcom writer. She gets the chance to write some episodes of the show she's been dreaming about creating for years and in order to pursue this opportunity, decides to stay home while her husband and two young daughters travel to visit family for Christmas.
Over the holidays, Georgie discovers that the landline at her mom's house connects to her husband in 1998, right before they got engaged. In the present, they are having marital problems, so Georgie tries to figure out if she should use the magic phone to try to save her marriage, or to stop it from happening.
The dialogue in this book is so great. Georgie as a character is known for her banter, and there is a part of the book that mentions how talented Georgie is, as a TV writer, at writing dialogue. Rowell is, too.
The characters in this book weren't likeable, but they were realistic. They were annoying in believable ways, they made poor choices and acted selfishly, yet still throughout the book I found myself rooting for them to work it out.
I enjoyed the magic realism aspect of the book. I was so impressed, after reading this third book by Rowell, at her range and the diversity of her books. Each book is so creative and she writes in different genres, and for different age groups. Her main characters are different genders, ages, races, and yet she does all of it so well, she doesn't have a "thing" that she knows and sticks to.

The only book of hers that I hadn't read was Fangirl, which came out the same year as Eleanor & Park (2013.) I'll admit, I was kind of putting this one off because it didn't seem like my type of thing, and I thought it was overhyped online. But I listened to the audiobook last week during my commute. I felt validated because there is a line in the book where one of the characters says he doesn't read, he just listens to audiobooks and another character says, "that counts as reading."
I had planned on only listening to it on my way to and from work but I listened to it over the weekend, and in the evenings until I finished it because once again, Rowell totally sucked me in.
Fangirl is about Kath, an 18-year-old girl going off to college for the first time. Her twin sister, Wren doesn't want to be her roomate and Kath has to navigate all these changes and being in a new place by herself. Kath also writes fanfiction about a fantasy series called Simon Snow. Simon Snow is basically Harry Potter - he's an orphan who finds out he gets to go to a boarding school to learn magic (although Simon is a "magician", not a "wizard.") His room mate at school is a kind of Draco Malfoy character, and his nemesis, but in Kath's fan fiction, the two boys are in love.
Kath spends her first year of college racing to finish this epic fan fiction she's been writing that has gained international attention. It's her take on the final book in the Simon Snow series and she wants to finish it before the real final book comes out. She also has to deal with new friendships, boy problems, family problems, and her classes.
This book felt like a very "back-to-school" book to me. It felt nostalgic for me because it reminded me of that time in my own life. The final Harry Potter book came out the day after my 18th birthday, and since that series was so special to me growing up, the release of the final book very much marked an "end to childhood," much like the last Simon Snow book does for Kath and her sister.
I found Kath's situations relatable but I didn't relate to her as a character. One of her personality traits is that she kind of has her guard up and is closed off from other people and since the book is written in third person, she is somewhat closed off even from the reader. I still really enjoyed the book. There are certain scenes that just pull you in and stick with you. It was a really lovely book and a great portrayal of university life, trying to navigate that foggy time between childhood and real adulthood, and of fan culture.

I think it's safe to say Rainbow Rowell is one of my new favourite authors and I am excited to see what she comes up with next!

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