YA Book Review: Rebel of the Sands

rebel of the sands

I’ve finally gotten a chance to sit down and properly gush over exalt this book.

And oh heavens, this book. In a nutshell, it’s about this girl named Amani, who comes from a dead-end little town in the middle of the desert called Dustwalk, which is where you go to die in obscurity. Amani wants out. She wants to find her next of kin in the city. Along the way, she steals a magical desert horse called a buraqi, meets Jin, a mysterious foreigner with a past he’s unwilling to talk about, falls for Jin, and finds out what she really is. (In that order.)

The whole story is so vivid and enchanting and fast-paced it leaves you breathless and utterly spellbound and calls to mind images like these:

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It’s been a while since I read something so beautifully crafted yet packed with tight action scenes and a plot that moves relentlessly forward. SIX OF CROWS by Leigh Bardugo was fantastic and all (seriously, read it if you haven’t already), but Alwyn Hamilton’s debut novel reminds me a lot of Laini Taylor’s DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE trilogy (hands-down THE BEST YA fantasy series I’ve read in my life – Laini is in a league of her own). Not in terms of plot, of course, but pacing and prose. The writing is lyrical yet concise – you don’t get the sense that the writer is getting carried away with la-di-da imagery and descriptions, but there is still poetry in her prose. Every sentence is perfectly crafted and carries the story forward.

Plot-wise, I mean the premise alone is enough to hook you. A mythical beast. A girl chasing her dreams. A mysterious foreigner. A rebel prince leading an uprising against the sultan. A rebel army made up of magical outcasts. SQUEEEE!

So many twists and turns. So many revelations. Such immense fun! I kept having to re-read sentences to savour them, and take down notes on how she crafted the scenes as well as outline the plot. Which explains why I took a month to read it. Also, I was trying to delay the inevitable end. When is the sequel going to be out already?!

Okay, I’m going to let the writing do the talking now.

Favourite quotes from the book:

The world makes things for each place. Fish for the sea, Rocs for the mountain skies, and girls with sun in their skin and perfect aim for a desert that doesn’t let weakness live.

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See why I can’t stop spazzing over this book?!?!

In short, REBEL OF THE SANDS is PERFECT. SO PERFECTLY CRAFTED I WANTED TO WEEP. So perfect it deserves all the 5-star reviews it has received. Because there are some books you read (as a writer) and realise that you will never – NEVER – be able to top because they are just that good. This is a book that deserves to be published and featured on the bestsellers list. Ms Hamilton, I take my hat off to you.

Excuse me while I go curl up in a corner now.

 

binge-read this book, and I’m still not over it

Read it.

That is all.

Okay, not quite. Of course that’s not all. You need more reason to pick it up. Just know that if one of your areas of interest is abnormal psychology, then this book will move you to tears while giving you an honest insight of bipolar disorder.

Isabel and Connor are friends who met at summer camp, where they served as counselors to teach children art. Connor fell for the eccentric, irreverent, out-of-this-world Isabel, and even though they’ve gone back to their own lives in different states after camp has ended they remain in touch via email and instant messaging. They talk about everything, share every detail of their lives with each other, including Isabel’s negligent boyfriend Trevor, Connor’s new gay friend Jeremy, and their families.

However, Connor soon realises that the brilliant, smart, and funny girl he met at camp experiences extreme emotional highs and lows that are making her more and more self-destructive.

Many times, the book hit very close to home. It’s upon reading books like this that you feel you’re not so alone in your emotions. It’s like it sneaked into you and listened to all your thoughts. I cried several times throughout the story, and swooned many more times at passages like these:

“Maybe there’s a galaxy with a planet that’s just a little more tilted, with a sun that shines just a little bit darker, and that’s where I’m supposed to be, where it somehow makes sense to feel this broken.”

“Your memories of me are part trees and part ocean and part magic, and I don’t know if I will ever be that girl again. She was the best version of me.”

Connor to Izzy:

“You never heard me tell you that I want everything, not just the perfect pieces, not just the sparkling, charming snapshots of you. You never let me tell you that I want every piece of you, even the broken ones, even the dark places where scary things hide.”

“Even though I was crying harder than I ever remember crying, even though I was sick with fear that I lost you, something about being held like that made it bearable. Somehow just knowing that there was that space for my pain, I don’t know, maybe it didn’t hurt so much.

Isabel. Come home. Someone needs to hold you like that. We all need to hold you like that. You don’t have to carry all your pain alone.”

And my absolute favourite:

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Seriously, if you’re into abnormal psych, and are a sucker for whimsical prose and some romance, drop everything and read this book now.

Book Review – Jellicoe Road, by Melina Marchetta

Jellicoe Road. Where do I begin?

What seems like a frivolous opening about territory wars (i.e. a bunch of teenagers taking their land way too seriously) in the Australian outbacks soon reveals itself to be much more complex and layered and cross-generational than expected.

The first sentence strikes you right off the bat – My father took one hundred and thirty-two minutes to die – so you know there is more to this story than meets the eye. Taylor Markham, the reluctant leader of the school’s underground community, was abandoned by her mother at age 11. And at 14, she ran away from boarding school, only to be brought back by the brigadier, a mysterious stranger who terrifies Taylor but has obvious ties with her guardian Hannah.

Taylor is on a quest to find her mother and make sense of her recurring dreams about a boy in a tree:

I’m dreaming of the boy in the tree. I tell him stories. About the Jellicoe School and the Townies and the Cadets from a school in Sydney. I tell him about the war between us for territory. And I tell him about Hannah, who lives in the unfinished house by the river. Hannah, who is too young to be hiding away from the world. Hannah, who found me on the Jellicoe Road six years ago.

Meanwhile, the territory wars sees Taylor reunited with Jonah Griggs, the leader of the visiting Townies whom she met on a train when she embarked on her search for her mother. ***spoiler alert*** Jonah, who called the school and had the brigadier bring her back, who thwarted her attempt to find her mother. Jonah, who had killed his abusive father and had meant to end his life until he met Taylor.

As she learns more about the founders of the warring communities (the Townies, the Cadets, and the Jellicoe School students), who were really just a group of friends whose fate intertwined as a result of a fatal car accident one of them saved the other four from, Taylor learns the truth about her family, and the beautiful, tragic fates of those who met on Jellicoe Road.

Again, this has to be asked: what is in those Australian waters? There’s just something about Australian YA lit that manages to worm its way into your heart, park itself there, and wreck you from within in the best possible way.

Like Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley and Stolen by Lucy Christopher and This is Shyness by Leanne Hall, Jellicoe Road seemed like a lighthearted read, with funny moments like this:

“So, like I asked, what’s with the nightie?”
“It smells like what I always think mothers smell like,” I tell him honestly, knowing I don’t have to explain.
He nods. “My mum has one just the same and you have no idea how disturbing it is that it’s turning me on.”

And like The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, it was magical enough to make the story a little surreal and that much more enchanting.

But like those other books, Jellicoe Road is so richly layered and poignant. You fall completely in love with the characters because they seem so real and relatable – their heartbreaks are your heartbreaks, and your happiness is a result of theirs, and you’re just so thankful when they find some reprieve.

There are truths that you discover and learn together with the protagonist, who is just figuring out how to live and love despite being abandoned when she was a child:

And moments that make your heart break for her:

“What do you want from me?” he asks.
What I want from every person in my life, I want to tell him.
More.

And the other characters, like Narnie:

“My father took one hundred and thirty-two minutes to die.

I counted.

It happened on the Jellicoe Road. The prettiest road I’d ever seen, where trees made breezy canopies like a tunnel to Shangri-La. We were going to the ocean, hundreds of miles away, because I wanted to see the ocean
and my father said that it was about time the four of us made that journey. I remember asking, ‘What’s the difference between a trip and a journey?’ and my father said, ‘Narnie, my love, when we get there, you’ll understand,’ and that was the last thing he ever said.”

And Jonah:

He sits on a train with me when we’re fourteen and he weeps, tearing at his hair, bashing his head with the palm of his hand, self-hatred pouring out of him like blood from a gut wound in a war movie, and for the first time in my life I have purpose. I am the holder of the grief and pain and guilt and passion of Jonah Griggs and as we sit huddled on the floor of the carriage, he allows me to hold him, to say, “Shhh, Jonah, it wasn’t your fault.” While his body still shakes from the convulsions, he takes hold of my hand and links my fingers with his and I feel someone else’s pain for the first time that I can remember.

And of course, there’s the HUGE plot twist that Doesn’t. Let. Up. You sort of snowball towards the end, where it all comes to a gratifying revelation. I remember stopping dead in my tracks (yes, I read while I walk) when Jonah made his revelation (see above), having to turn off my Kindle to take a breath and process it all; I remember aching for Jonah and wanting to give him a hug, even though HE’S NOT REAL.

I love how the fates of the Tate, Narnie, Fitz, Webb, and Jude collided on Jellicoe Road, and how their friendship turned into kinship, though I hated how life destroyed them because I had come to love them like they were my friends.

Plus, Marchetta did a brilliant job of tying dual story lines. Attempting exactly that with No Room in Neverland, I’m learning a lot about this technique from reading Jellicoe Road.

Vinaya’s review of the book pretty much sums up my reaction:

This book is so fucked up. Completely, totally fucked up. Everybody in it is fucked up, and living their lives is fucked up, and by the time you’re done with it, you’re fucked up, but you can’t tell because your head is cloudy from all the tears you’ve shed getting through this fucked-up book.

I hate On The Jellicoe Road. I hate books that make me cry, and this book made me want to weep tears of blood for all that lost youth and promise, and the pain of loss and the promise of the future. If somebody had told me how mixed-up and emotional this book was going to make me feel, I would have abandoned it in a corner and floated off to the simple uncomplicated world of supernatural ass-kicking, where nobody dies and even if they do, they rarely stay dead.

Like I said, this is one book that wrecks you completely. And you gladly let it. It’s the kind of book that leaves its indelible mark on you, and you need a day or two to stew in its brilliance and process it entirely because there are just too many emotions to digest that it elicited.

But now that I’m done with it (trust me, I tried as hard as I could to put off getting to the end), WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO READ NOW THAT WILL FILL THIS VOID? Perhaps another Melina Marchetta book, The Piper’s Son, will do the trick.

Book Review: Shadow and Bone

Fair warning: this post contains fangirl moments over Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, the first of the Grisha trilogy by Leigh Bardugo. If fangirling gives you a massive headache, walk away now.

Otherwise, OMG THIS BOOK!!


The Story


Set in an alternate ancient Russia, in a place called Ravka, the story opens with a boy and a girl, both orphans adopted by Duke Keramsov before being posted to different vocations: Alina a cartographer, Mal a tracker/hunter. They live in a country that is constantly under siege by Fjerdans from the north, and Shu Hans from the south, and there’s this thing called the Fold that the Darkling and his men have to cross on their voyage across the Unsea. There, bird-like beasts called the Volcra feast on human flesh. The inciting moment is when Alina is taken across the fold and manages to save those on board with her once-dormant power of light.

The Darkling, by the way, is the leader of the Grisha (the magical elite) who is trying to wrestle for power from the passive king and rule all the land. He finds use for Alina, who is revealed to be the Sun Summoner, the one who can drive the Volcra away and ensure the safe crossing of the Fold. Alina is taken under the Darkling’s wing and hailed as the new hope for the people of Ravka.

But as she is taken deeper into the world of the Grisha, Alina uncovers more secrets and is forced to question her loyalties to the Darkling.

The Pacing


The first 60 percent of the book was kind of forgettable, and more than once I questioned where this was all leading up to. The flirty little moments between the Darkling and Alina, where the latter is lured by the promise of power and affection (things that had been denied to her when she was an adopted orphan), the lessons Alina had to go through, the petty politics of the court, where Alina was the subject of gossip and underhanded attacks by a jealous Grisha girl. I was ready for Alina to stop whining about how pathetic she was physically and get on with honing her powers already.

But then: PLOT TWIST PLOT TWIST PLOT FRIGGING TWIST!

Only it came about 100 pages too late. I would’ve liked things to move a little quicker, especially around the first 60 percent or so of the book. I took three weeks to read this book because I gave up on it halfway and moved on to other books. But once you survive till 65 percent or so, you will be glued to the page. There, I didn’t give anything away, did I?

The Writing


I wasn’t really a fan of the prose at the beginning. There were just too many I’s in the sentences, and after a while I was like, Vary your sentence structure, pleeeease!

Case in point:

And lest you think this is typical of first-person narrative (I know people who scoff at first-person POV), it’s not. There are a lot of writers whose writing feels natural even in first-person.

But then you’ve got moments like these:

And it’s just,

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Sentence structure what??

The Romance

Um, need I say more? Malina (Mal + Alina) is endgame. (I peeked at the end of the last book), and that makes me happy *insert cheesy grin*

So I can get past the excessive use of I’s and rote reporting of events, because OH YES THIS IS HOW YA FANTASY SHOULD BE DONE.

And the good news is: books two and three await.

Happy Friday! Hope you’re lost in a good book too :0)

Book Review: A Little Wanting Song

So after the magic that was Graffiti Moon, I reached for another Cath Crowley book, A Little Wanting Song.

It was everything I hoped it would be – sweet, funny, poignant, with beautiful, heart-breaking prose, characters you fall in love with and find a bit of yourself in, and music (pun intended) woven between the lines.

Graffiti Moon, which I raved about a while back, is a quiet, funny, and bittersweet contemporary novel about two people trying to find a place for themselves and their art. It inspired me to write Until Morning, and now I’m a die-hard Cath Crowley fan. I’d read ANYTHING she writes, including those strange, beautiful prose and poems on her blog.

The premise for A Little Wanting Song is music instead. It’s about how shy Charlie Duskin, who lost her mother seven years ago and is still reeling in the aftermath of her loss, relies on her music to get her through life with her emotionally distant father.

Love and loss are themes done to death before, and by so many fantastic authors like Sarah Dessen and Christie Hodgen, but the thing about Cath Crowley’s writing is that she leaves a lot of things unsaid. So it seems like a very simple YA story told from a teenage narrator’s POV, but there are so many emotions and layers you can get to if you know where to look.

Her prose just DOES THINGS TO ME I CAN’T EVEN EXPLAIN IT.

*insert incoherent babbling and flapping here*

I want to do that too, with my writing. I want to reduce my readers to a sobbing, laughing puddle of emotions and incoherent thoughts.

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I’m convinced there’s something in that Australian soil that produces writers like Cath Crowley, Vikki Wakefield, Karen Foxlee, Lucy Christopher and Melina Marchetta. How can I ever write like thaaaaaat.

*

Okay, I set out partly to talk about that beautiful book, and also to complain this writing rut I’m in (NOT writer’s block – I refuse to fall back on that excuse), about how I can’t find anything that makes me want to write and lose myself in the magic of words again. But then I headed over to Laini Taylor’s blog, like I always do when I need something reassuring and uplifting, and it’s helped LOADS.

Seriously, just reading one of her blog posts (she updates less regularly now, alas!) puts me in the happy, hopeful mood. And it makes me want to write! HOW is that possible?! It’s not even a post about writing, but about a friend, Kiersten White’s book (which, by the way, now I’m DYING to read).

But yes, the problem still stands. I still don’t believe in No Room in Neverland enough to write it. And I’m afraid to work all the way to 289 pages before I realise it’s not working again. Okay, time to re-read THIS POST!

Also, this little pep talk from best-selling author, and writer of this hysterically funny and on-point post, couldn’t be more timely. I SPURTED OUT MY TEA READING THIS, CHUCK WENDIG, THANKS FOR THAT.

Have a lovely weekend! :0)

Book Review – Eleanor and Park

So despite the slightly underwhelming experience that was Fangirl, I’ve decided to try another Rainbow Rowell novels, Eleanor and Park. It came highly recommended by friends, as well as Goodreads folks, and Fangirl was enjoyable enough, so I gave E&P a chance.

Overall it was … okay. Better than Fangirl, in terms of plot and character. But I was still left wanting. Not for more of the story, but for something to seriously blow me away. Like, “reach into your chest and crush your heart to smithereens because THE FEELS THE FEELS” blow me away.

Or maybe I’m just dead inside.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

The Story

Basically, Korean-American kid meets weird chubby girl who dresses differently. Eleanor ends up sitting next to Park on the school bus, and they start sharing his comic books and discussing music and it’s all very nice and dandy, except that Eleanor is being bullied by the kids in school and her stepfather is an explosive, sadistic ass. Plus, she keeps find sick, perverted messages scrawled in her textbooks.

Eleanor tries to keep Park a secret from her family (especially her stepfather, who will destroy anything good in her life), and her family a secret from Park (because she’s ashamed of them). But the story eventually reaches breaking point, and all the secrets come tumbling out as Eleanor’s carefully curated life comes tumbling down.

The Pacing

Compared to Fangirl, there is way more conflict and tension in E&P. I like how the subplot of the creepy anonymous notes (“suck my dick” – very classy, step-daddy) contributes to the main narrative arc at the end and actually creates a very cool twist to the story.

Plus, the tension builds steadily towards the climax at the end so it’s quite impossible to put down the damn book (looked up to find a couple of hours just gone).

The Characters

I’m still not sure how I feel about Eleanor. Park, I get. Park, I empathise with (he feels like he’s always falling short of his dad’s expectations and sometimes just want to retreat into his own world). Park, I might actually be in love with.

(If I imagine Donghae as Park, Park is practically swoon-worthy. I mean, they’re practically of the same build, they’re gorgeous – at least according to Eleanor, but she might be biased about Park – and they’re sweet and kind but sometimes a little brash.

*Swoon*

I swear, that’s what I did. Imagine Donghae as Park, I mean. He fits the character to a T! Even when Park went through the eyeliner phase. I mean,

Come on.)

Anyway, Park I love.

Eleanor, though. Sometimes, I got a little impatient with her. She either wants to jump Park’s bones, or she shuts him out. She is either super frail and in need of saving, or super snarky and mean. I get that the hostility is a defence mechanism, but it doesn’t seem very consistent.

Sometimes, she’s completely self-flagellating:

Sometimes completely smitten (and horny):

And sometimes just plain weird.

That’s a fine stride you’re making for feminism, love.

The Romance

As with Fangirl, Rowell did not hold back her horny rabbits characters. They are all over each other, and can’t stop gushing over how beautiful each other are and how they just want to eat each other up.

I thought their romance progressed a little too fast, to be honest. Like Steph from Cuddlebuggery said,

Park went from “God! Just sit the fuck down, Eleanor!” to “God, she has incredibly soft hands.” 

Eleanor went from “That stupid Asian kid” to “He’s so pretty. I love his hair! I want to eat his face!”

The next thing I know, Park is telling Eleanor that he’s in love with her, how he can’t imagine being without her, that she’s IT for him. Then Eleanor is telling him she doesn’t breathe when she’s away from him.  

The breakneck-speed romance is a bump in the road, but if you manage to get over it, the rest of the story is all right.

Except, REALLY? Park is swearing undying love for a girl he barely knows and Eleanor can’t live without a boy with whom she barely shares anything about herself?

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The Setting

The story is set in 1986, Omaha. But Park, or Eleanor’s African-American friends Beebi and DeNice, seem to coast through the book without much trouble. Instead, Eleanor is the one getting bullied.

I’m not saying pile on the hate, but everything else about the time and place seems to fall by the wayside when it comes to E&P’s epic love. Why set it in 1986, Omaha then? It could have taken place in 2014, and frankly it wouldn’t have made much of a difference.

I do like Park’s mother, though. How her backstory affected the way she perceived Eleanor and how she finally came around was something I wish Rowell teased out more. (It reminds me of Mrs Kim in Gilmore Girls and how she came to accept Lane’s boyfriend Zac, except I think the show did a better job at highlighting the character arc). I think it’d be more interesting to see more of Park’s interactions and domestic tension with his family members instead of him and Eleanor taking about comic books.

The Ending

This was me, basically

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Please tell me the story doesn’t end here. Seriously. There are so many loose ends untied. And while I get that not everything has to be tied up neatly – nor does everyone have to get their happy ending – there are still too many questions and uncertainties that the ending doesn’t quite address.

*Spoiler* Is Eleanor going to stay with her relatives until she’s legal? Has she been in touch with her mom and siblings? She just took off like that suddenly and built a new life so easily, cutting off from everyone, including Park.

One whole year, no word from Eleanor, while Park writes long, rambling lovesick letter after letter. And finally, when she does decide to write to Park, the message is only three words long on a postcard?

If I were Park, I’d be like

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But Park’s a sweetheart and a hopeful, hapless git. Like Noah from The Notebook. Which means he probably doesn’t exist outside of the book.

The Rating

Still, E&P had its moments. There were some parts that quite poignant:

And some dramatic and pretty:

Although I kinda paused at this bit:

 

Oh, I can come up with a lot of hot Asian guys, but I suppose since this is 1986 Omaha, the Asian boy fetish hasn’t caught on. Yet.

In all, I’d rate this book 3.5 out of 5 (compared to Fangirl’s 3). Not spectacular, But Rowell’s voice is natural and the writing never too heavy-handed (except when it comes to describing love interests). Some parts she sort of skated across (I’m sure there are a lot more social dynamics left to explore, considering the setting) to make way for the romance. And there were still a lot of questions left unanswered towards the end. But at least this one has more conflict and tension than Fangirl.

Have you read Eleanor and Park? What do you think of it? Is there something about Rowell’s books that I’m not quite getting??

Book Review: Fangirl

Remember how excited I was to finally get started on Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell?

This is what you get when you buy into all the hype before reading a book.

I’d heard SO many good things about this book and this author. Two of Rowell’s books had topped the Goodreads Choice Awards in 2013, and there were so many five-star reviews for Fangirl.

But while I found the book entertaining enough, I couldn’t help but feel a little let down.


The Lowdown
Fangirl is about this introverted girl, Cath, whose twin sister Wren starts to drift away from her after as soon as they start college. While Wren is out partying and drinking herself silly, Cath presses on with her super popular fanfiction about the Simon Snow books (the equivalent of the Harry Potter series). There isn’t much of an overarching narrative thread. It’s just like a chronicle of Cath’s life as she goes through college, gradually sticks her head out of her hermit hole and meet people, get a boyfriend, and explain why fanfic is legitimate fiction to her Creative Writing professor.


The Verdict

The book wasn’t terrible. Some parts were really good, such as the Simon Snow bits (I was far more interested in reading about Simon Snow the magician and his nemesis Baz than Cath’s relationship drama), and the strained relationship between Cath and her mother (wow, that one got very close to home, I’ll give you that). But the parts I wish Rowell had explored were kind of underdeveloped. In the end, Cath’s mother just sort of disappeared towards the story. I really wanted to see some kind of emotional outburst or denouement between Cath and her mom, but the latter just faded out of the story to let the romance take over.

 

The Romance 
And speaking of the romance, I seriously thought it was meant to be satirical at first. The way Cath and Levi (her roommate’s boyfriend, whom her roommate two-timed, so that makes it okay for Cath and Levi to get together) fawn over each other. Cath is all up in his face, kissing his jaw, his chin, his nose, his lips, and they’re always going on about how gorgeous and adorable each other is and how much they miss each other.

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I mean, I get that you’re infatuated, but do people seriously go googly-eyed all. the. time. about their partners? Even if they do, does that fawning need to take up practically half the book? I found myself skipping the parts where they are all over each other, and more than once I wondered if Rowell was being serious or satirical about the whole YA/NA romance genre.


The Dialogue
I actually really liked the dialogue. It was one of the better qualities of the book. It felt natural and there were funny bits like this:

“You look ridiculous,” Wren said.

“What?”

“That shirt.” It was a Hello Kitty shirt from eighth or ninth grade. Hello Kitty dressed as a superhero. It said SUPER CAT on the back, and Wren had added an H with fabric paint. The shirt was cropped too short to begin with, and it didn’t really fit anymore. Cath pulled it down self-consciously.

“Cath!” her dad shouted from downstairs. “Phone.”

Cath picked up her cell phone and looked at it.

“He must mean the house phone,” Wren said.

“Who calls the house phone?”

“Probably 2005. I think it wants its shirt back.” 

I can just imagine this being read out in play-writing class (miss you guys!) and getting some laughs.

 

And then there are some bright moments like this one between Cath and her dad:

“Isn’t giving up allowed sometimes? Isn’t it okay to say, ‘This really hurts, so I’m going to stop trying’?”

“It sets a dangerous precedent.”

“For avoiding pain?”

“For avoiding life.” 

 

But then there’s semi-annoying banter like this:
“What if I promise not to touch you?”

“Cath laughed. “Now I have zero incentive to come.”

“What if I promise to let you touch me first?”

“Are you kidding? I’m the untrustworthy person in this relationship. I’m all hands.”

“I’ve seen no evidence of that, Cath.”

“In my head, I’m all hands.”

“I want to live in your head.” 

And sappy moments like this:

“You’re beautiful,” she said.

“That’s you.”

“Don’t argue with me. You’re beautiful.” 

 

And descriptions like this:

“Cath couldn’t stop thinking about Levi and his ten thousand smiles.” 

“His mouth was small, but bowed. Like a doll’s. She wondered if he had trouble opening it wide enough to eat apples.” 

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The Conflict

Everything was very la-di-da and smooth-sailing for Cath. Sure, she had a writing buddy who practically stole her story and a writing professor who gave her a bad grade because she submitted fanfic for an assignment (duh) and a sister who kept getting into trouble and expecting her to clean up after her and a mom who suddenly wanted contact with them. But everything felt kind of random and thrown together. I get that it mimics real life, since there’s no “overarching narrative thread” in reality, but it felt like Rowell smoothed these little issues over very easily.

The biggest challenge in school for Cath was … eating in the dining hall. Seriously, she kept a stash of energy bars so she wouldn’t have to eat alone in the dining hall. I get that, I really do. But I wanted to know more about her social anxiety – why is she this way? what happened in the past for her to be so afraid of meeting people? how is this going to affect her interaction with the new people she meets in college eventually? (It doesn’t, by the way, if her over effusiveness with Levi is any indication.)

I kept waiting for everything to snowball into something big at the end that led to a transformation in Cath (or any character). But even the fight she and Levi had towards the end was resolved in three pages or so.

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More! I need more conflict – both internal and external – to make me root for the characters! (There was, however, this one scene between Cath and Wren, where they argued about their mother. Cath hates her, wants nothing to do with her, sees Wren as fraternising with the enemy when the latter agrees to have lunch and be in contact with her. That was a particularly emotionally charged scene and I could totally relate to Cath. I only wished there were more moments like this in the book.)

I don’t know. Is it just me? Am I not quite getting something, some hidden awesomeness about Fangirl? Five-star YA contemporary is Sarah Dessen and Cath Crowley and Melina Marchetta for me. Fangirl is more like a 3 or 3.5 (a bonus 0.5 for the Simon Snow bits – even Baz, a fictional character, had more backstory than Cath, the protagonist).

(Just to be clear, I didn’t HATE it. I enjoyed it well enough. But I just don’t get the hype. For all the glowing reviews it got, I expected Fangirl to blow me away like What Happened to Goodbye or Graffiti Moon had.)

Still, I’m hoping Rowell’s other book, Eleanor and Park (which comes with its own set of 5-star reviews on Goodreads), will ease up on the weird touching and hungry kissing and sappy praises about love interest’s lips or hair or eyes or cheeks.

But from what I’ve read so far, that doesn’t seem too likely. Eleanor and Park have gone from sitting next to each other on the bus (because they had no choice) to sharing comic books and music to stroking each other’s hands to this:

Although I think the characters in Eleanor and Park have more backstory and personal conflict than those in Fangirl, so I’m holding out on the hope that this book will make me understand all those 5-star reviews. Okay, going in blind now…

Hope your week is filled with slightly more gratifying books! :0)