By: Rainbow Rowell
Date Finished: 01.16.15
While most teenagers look forward to their independence, Cath dreads going to college, especially after her twin sister, Wren, says that she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is uncomfortable with change and uncertainty — more so than most people — and so she retreats to a world that she knows intimately, the world of Simon Snow. The Simon Snow book series started when Cath and Wren were kids, not long after their mom left. It became a cultural hit, and both Cath and Wren grew up as devoted fans. They wrote Simon Snow fanfiction together until Wren moved on to other things, but Cath didn’t give it up. And even when the new rhythms and influences of college life wrap around Cath, she can’t bear to let go of Simon.
This book is the real deal. It’s a celebration of life in all its messiness and of fiction in all its iterations. Rowell paints a positive picture of fanfiction and fangirling, but doesn’t let Cath off the hook for burying herself in Simon’s world at the expense of the real one. There is a time for fiction, and a time for living; this book covers both.
I really enjoyed the experience of reading this book because I had no idea how things were going to play out. I could guess where some of the threads were going, but Cath, despite her aversion to change, was rather unpredictable. She didn’t respond to every trigger, but when she did engage, she committed completely. I liked that about her. But she made me nervous too, when she ignored the good things in her life. It was difficult to watch Cath’s world crumble, but it was that much more satisfying to see her rebuild. I was always rooting for her.
The book is divided into two parts — the fall semester where Cath is almost paralyzed by discomfort and the spring semester where she really begins to grow. While Cath’s transformation is gradual throughout the course of the book, there is a distinctive shift in tone for the second part. The spring is more hopeful, and, in a way, more active. Between each chapter, Rowell includes snippets of Simon Snow stories — never more than a page. Some vignettes are from the Simon Snow books and some are from the fanfiction that Cath (with or without Wren) wrote. I enjoyed this feature at the beginning because it gave more context to what Cath was obsessing over (Rowell also helped give context by starting the book with a fake Wikipedia article on the Simon Snow series). Further into the book, the snapshots started to feel repetitive since they were too short to give much information. Even though these scenelettes lost their potency as the book went on, I was still grateful to have them.
All in all, it’s a fascinating read. Rowell doesn’t hold back from the pain in these characters’ lives, yet the story is always hopeful. Consider me a fan.
At the end of the day: Really for me