Book Review: Any Way the Wind Blows (Simon Snow, #3) by Rainbow Rowell

Title: Any Way the Wind Blows (Simon Snow, #3)
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Publication date: July 6, 2021
Length: 579 pages
Genre: Young adult fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

In Carry On, Simon Snow and his friends realized that everything they thought they understood about the world might be wrong. And in Wayward Son, they wondered whether everything they understood about themselves might be wrong.

In Any Way the Wind Blows, Simon and Baz and Penelope and Agatha have to decide how to move forward.

For Simon, that means deciding whether he still wants to be part of the World of Mages — and if he doesn’t, what does that mean for his relationship with Baz? Meanwhile Baz is bouncing between two family crises and not finding any time to talk to anyone about his newfound vampire knowledge. Penelope would love to help, but she’s smuggled an American Normal into London, and now she isn’t sure what to do with him. And Agatha? Well, Agatha Wellbelove has had enough.

Any Way the Wind Blows takes the gang back to England, back to Watford, and back to their families for their longest and most emotionally wrenching adventure yet.

This book is a finale. It tells secrets and answers questions and lays ghosts to rest.

Carry On was conceived as a book about Chosen One stories; Any Way the Wind Blows is an ending about endings. About catharsis and closure, and how we choose to move on from the traumas and triumphs that try to define us.

Note: I’ll try not to be too spoiler-y about Any Way the Wind Blows, but since this is the 3rd book in a trilogy, there will be spoilers for the first two books. You have been warned!

In Carry On, we meet Simon Snow, the most powerful magician of his generation. Simon is the Chosen One, the boy destined to save the World of Mages from its most dastardly threats. Carry On is very much a Harry Potter-esque story — Simon is an orphan, brought to Watford, England’s school of magic, and nurtured as the protégé of the Mage, the school’s powerful, dashing headmaster who exerts influence over all elements of the magical world.

But what would have happened to Harry Potter if, rather than killing the evil Lord Voldemort, he grew in power only to discover that his beloved mentor Albus Dumbledore was actually the villain, set on gathering all power for himself and bending the magical world to his own wishes? This is more or less where Simon finds himself at the end of Carry On. He and his friends confront the greatest evil, ready for the ultimate showdown, only to discover that it’s the Mage himself who’s behind all the bad. And then, inadvertently, Simon kills him.

The end.

But what happens to Simon next? What happens after you face your biggest foe and win, but cause death and the end of the life you knew?

In Wayward Son, Simon and his friends go on a roadtrip in America, experiencing challenges and dangers and adventure, while also giving Simon time to process how very upended his life has become. It’s very action-packed, and there isn’t a whole lot of time for contemplation.

But in Any Way the Wind Blows, back in England, it’s time to confront their futures. For Simon, he’s finally romantically involved with Baz, who was his nemesis and awful roommate during their years at Watford, only to eventually realize that beneath their mutual distrust and dislike was a simmering attraction and depth of feelings. For Simon’s bestie Penelope, she’s ready to resume being the cleverest magician around, except she’s brought a Normal (Muggle) back from American on a mission to cure him of a demonic curse — and as a result, has to not only put all her magical skills to the test, but also challenge magical society’s prejudices about non-magical people. And for Agatha, Simon’s former school girlfriend, she has to find a way to make sense of her life apart from being the beautiful girl always being rescued by Simon.

They all have a lot to deal with, clearly.

Simon suffers the most of all of them. At the end of Carry On, he lost all his magic, but ended up with dragon wings and a tail. He’s madly and passionately in love with Baz, and they’re trying to have a relationship, but at the same time, Simon absolutely doesn’t know how to be intimate or open with another person. It’s not just about physical intimacy — he loves Baz and knows that Baz loves him, but he has literal panic attacks when they get too close. Simon has spent his early life in foster homes, has no family, and has spent his formative years being a savior. What does he do when he has no magic, can’t save anyone, and no longer belongs in the world he thought he was meant to save? And how does he let Baz in when he doesn’t understand himself or who he is?

Simon and Baz’s relationship has ups and downs throughout the book, and parts are painful to read. They’re awkward, and Simon is so clearly suffering. He’s so full of want, but also so fearful, and he just doesn’t know how to be. Baz is absolutely lovely with Simon, even as he also learns more about his own (vampiric) nature and what that might mean for the rest of his life.

To be honest, while I wasn’t exactly bored at any point, I did find Penelope and Agatha’s storylines less interesting than Simon and Baz’s, and since the book alternates focus between the characters from chapter to chapter and section to section, I was always a little reluctant to move away from the main points of interest to delve into the supporting plotlines.

At almost 600 pages, this book is much longer than the previous one, and while I loved it as a whole, I think a large part of that is due to how much I love the characters. When you read a long, involved series, the characters can become more than just people on a page — or at least, that’s true for me when reading really excellent stories with amazing world-building and character development. It’s something of a double-edged sword though, because I become so invested in the characters I love that I don’t particularly want any plot points to get in the way of their happiness… which wouldn’t lead to a very interesting story.

In the case of Any Way the Wind Blows, this means that I was unhappy whenever Simon and Baz were unhappy, even if their unhappiness was part of their journey toward finding their way forward in their relationship. (If I’m making any sense at all…)

In terms of the plot, I enjoyed a lot of this book, although the overarching mystery/drama about the rise of a new Chosen One didn’t particularly resonate for me. There were things I was hoping would happen by the end of the book that didn’t (being cryptic here), and even though that’s hard for me to accept, it makes sense. At the same time, I felt unsatisfied by the lack of answers to certain questions, and felt that the story just kind of ended. There’s an epilogue that gives a lovely ending situation to one character, but it’s a year after the main events of the book… so what happened to everyone else and where are they now??

I love the Simon Snow books as a whole, and I love Simon and Baz so much (and yes, even Penelope and Agatha)… but I wish I’d felt a little more fulfilled when all was said and done. I may need to let this one simmer for a bit and come back to it again, to see if my feelings change over time.

Meanwhile, I think I’ll go back and listen to Carry On all over again, to revisit the origin story with full knowledge of how it all turns out. Carry On is an introduction to a trilogy that — with Wayward Son and Any Way the Wind Blows — ends up not being about a powerful magician in a magical world, but what happens to a formerly powerful magician who doesn’t fit in in any world.

Overall, it’s a fabulous journey with characters who can make my heart happy and also break it into pieces. Come for the magic wands, stay for the Simon and Baz lovefest. And Agatha. And goats (yes, really). And even Penelope and her Normal. As a whole, I heartily recommend the Simon Snow trilogy. It’s not what it seems like it’s going to be, but what it is is very, very cool.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Books On My Summer 2021 TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Books On My Summer 2021 TBR.

This is really just scratching the surface — so many books to read! Here are 10 of my upcoming reads, all being released in June, July or August. Six out of ten are sequels or continuations of series, and four are new stand-alones. They all sound amazing!

  1. Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon
  2. The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison (set in the world of The Goblin Emperor)
  3. The Book of Accidents by Chuck Wendig
  4. While We Were Dating by Jasmine Guillory
  5. The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix
  6. Any Way the Wind Blows by Rainbow Rowell (the 3rd Simon Snow book)
  7. Incense and Sensibility by Sonali Dev (fun series of Jane Austen retellings)
  8. Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
  9. Feral Creatures by Kira Jane Buxton (sequel to Hollow Kingdom)
  10. Sunrise By the Sea by Jenny Colgan (another book in the Little Beach Street Bakery series!)

What are you planning to read this summer? Please share your links!

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Book Review: Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell

 

The story is supposed to be over.

Simon Snow did everything he was supposed to do. He beat the villain. He won the war. He even fell in love. Now comes the good part, right? Now comes the happily ever after…

So why can’t Simon Snow get off the couch?

What he needs, according to his best friend, is a change of scenery. He just needs to see himself in a new light…

That’s how Simon and Penny and Baz end up in a vintage convertible, tearing across the American West.

They find trouble, of course. (Dragons, vampires, skunk-headed things with shotguns.) And they get lost. They get so lost, they start to wonder whether they ever knew where they were headed in the first place…

With Wayward Son, Rainbow Rowell has written a book for everyone who ever wondered what happened to the Chosen One after he saved the day. And a book for everyone who was ever more curious about the second kiss than the first. It’s another helping of sour cherry scones with an absolutely decadent amount of butter.

Come on, Simon Snow. Your hero’s journey might be over – but your life has just begun.

Note: Spoilers ahead for Carry on and Wayward Son!

Poor Simon Snow. In Carry On, he beats the big bad (the Insidious Humdrum) and the other big bad (the Mage), but at the cost of his own magic. Now Simon is a former magician with no magical power, and he still has the enormous wings and tail he spelled onto himself before his magic went away. And now, a year after the big showdown, he mostly just hangs around listlessly, sharing a flat with Penelope, still in a romance with Baz, but one that seems to not be particularly romantic or much of anything at all.

Meanwhile, their friend (and Simon’s ex) Agatha is trying to lead a magic-free life in San Diego among the Normals, going to school and hanging out with a health-conscious friend who’s trying to convince her to “level up” in her new, exclusive club (cult?).

When Penelope becomes convinced that Agatha is in danger, she talks Baz and Simon into coming to America with her (using magicked airplane tickets and cash), and off they go to explore a brave new world. First stop? Chicago, where Penelope hopes to set off some new sparks with her long-term, long-distance boyfriend Micah. But it turns out that Penelope’s determination (and inability to really listen) mean that she missed something important. What follows is one of the funniest break-up conversations I’ve ever read:

“You. Don’t. Listen. To me.”

“I certainly do.”

“Really? I told you I was tired of being in a long-distance relationship — ”

“And I agreed that it was tiring!” I say.

“I told you that I thought we’d grown apart –”

“And I said that was natural!” I half shout.

So once Penny’s heart has been broken, she, Baz, and Simon get back in the car and hit the open road on the way to California, but of course, their road trip doesn’t go exactly as planned. Along the way, they discover that what they don’t know about America can definitely hurt them. Magic is much less regulated, and is very much tied to the Normal population, so as they head across the great wide open of states like Iowa and Nebraska, they hit dead spots where their magic sputters and fails, leaving them easy prey for other magickal creatures who have a rather strong dislike for magicians. Oh, and they kill vampires. Publicly. And pick up a Normal sidekick, who seems to know an awful lot about the magickal world.

There’s adventure after adventure, all leading to a showdown with vampires in the vampire capital — Las Vegas, of course. And a big rescue. And lots of fabulous fashion.

I ate this book up — I think I finished it within 24 hours of starting. And it’s glorious fun, but left me hungry for (a) MORE and (b) maybe a bit more content?

Here’s what I wish and wonder, now that I’ve finished Wayward Son:

♥ I want Simon to get his power back! I know, that’s not the way it works… but still, it’s just so sad to see the greatest magician of all times without his power. Although he is still a fierce fighter, wings and all.

♥ At the end, Simon seems to be contemplating getting his wings and tail removed, starting uni, and leaving the magickal world behind for good. Does this mean leaving Baz behind too? SAD.

♥ Poor Baz and Simon love each other so much, yet they can’ seem to connect. Will Simon come around, or is their relationship doomed?

♥ We learn that a vampire bite doesn’t automatically turn a human into a vampire, which is what Baz has believed all along. So how does it work? How does a human get turned?

♥ Agatha is still the only person who knows who Simon’s parents are. It’s never mentioned in Wayward Son. Will Simon ever find out? What will it do to him when he does? And does the ritual that gave him all his power in the first place hold some key to getting it back? (Yeah, I really, really do want Simon to get magic back. Can’t help it. What would the rest of Harry Potter’s life be like if he defeated Voldemort but lost all his wizarding gifts as a result? Pretty sad, huh?)

Oh, Simon.

It’s time for me to stop pretending that I’m some sort of superhero. I was that — I really was — but I’m not anymore. I don’t belong in the same world as sorcerers and vampires. That’s not my story.

Baz wants a future with Simon. Simon seems about to tell Baz that he’s leaving their world (and Baz, too, in that case), when Penny rushes up to tell them that they need to get back to England immediately to deal with an emergeny at Watford.

Will Simon go? Will the crew save the day? WILL THERE BE ANOTHER SIMON SNOW BOOK?

I do really and truly love this world of Rainbow Rowell’s, and as always, I love her writing. There’s deep emotion and connection and searches for meaning, but it’s also just really funny.

We literally have three “pickup trucks” in all of England, but here they’re everywhere. What is it that Americans have to pick up that the rest of the world doesn’t?

But she can also break your heart:

There’s no safe time for me to see you, nothing about you that doesn’t tear my heart from my chest and leave it breakable outside my body.

I adore the characters (BAZ FOR THE WIN!), and the author’s spin on a magickal world and what it means for the various types of people who inhabit it. Wayward Son is very much a road-trip book, and I did wish for a little more of the sense of world-building wonder that was so powerful in Carry On.

Please, please, please let there be a book #3! I don’t think I can stand leaving the characters and the story this way. MORE, PLEASE!

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The details:

Title: Wayward Son (Simon Snow, #2)
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Publication date: September 24 2019
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Young adult fiction
Source: Purchased

The Monday Check-In ~ 9/30/2019

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life. 

Wishing all who celebrate a sweet and happy new year!

And in other news…

No more cast! The cast came off this past Friday, and now I have a brace to wear for about six weeks. Freedom! You have no idea how great it feels to take a shower without having to wrap my arm in plastic first. Now comes the hard part — I start physical therapy on Tuesday, and I’ve been warned already that it will hurt.

But yay for being on the road to recovery!

 

 

 

 

 

 

What did I read during the last week?

In brand-new fiction:

An Unorthodox Match by Naomi Ragen: Don’t be put off by the misleading cover image — this is a thoughtful, touching novel about a woman who chooses a new life in the ultra-orthodox Jewish community of Brooklyn. My review is here.

The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman: Beautiful and tragic. My review is here.

In audiobooks:

Kopp Sisters on the March by Amy Stewart: The Kopp Sisters series continues strong in this, the 5th installment, and the audiobook narrator is as terrific as always. My review is here.

Book group reads:

I couldn’t help it — I was so frustrated by reading The Pickwick Papers in tiny increments that I ended up reading through to the end. I suppose I’m glad to have read it, but of the four Dickens novels I’ve now read, this one would go at the bottom of the list for me.

We wrapped up our group read of Virgins by Diana Gabaldon this past week. For me, it was my 3rd time reading this novella. If you’re an Outlander fan and haven’t read this yet, definitely check it out!

Pop Culture

While on the plane traveling to a conference this week, I started watching season 1 of Fleabag.

Man, is it funny. And man, do you not want to be watching this in public! I didn’t realize how filthy (in a good way, IMHO) this show is, but watching on a plane, I felt like I had to keep hiding my screen — especially since I was using captions. Hilarious — can’t wait to continue!

Fresh Catch:

Hurray! My copy of the new Simon Snow book arrived this week while I was away.

And thank you, Orbit Books, for sending me a copy of Ghoster! Sounds creepy and delicious — can’t wait to start!

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

The Library of the Unwritten by A. J. Hackwith: I’m only just getting started.. but a library in hell? Yes, please.

Now playing via audiobook:

The Matchmaker’s List by Sonya Lalli I was in the mood for a light-hearted listen, and so far, this seems to be hitting the spot.

Ongoing reads:

None at the moment! My book group has a new novella starting next week, but our next classic read doesn’t start until December. What will I do with all my reading freedom for the next two months? (I’m sure I’ll figure it out…)

So many books, so little time…

boy1

The Monday Check-In ~ 9/23/2019

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life. 

Woo hoo — I finally get my cast off at the end of this week! I can’t wait to be done… although then I’ll be starting physical therapy, and I’ve been warned already that’s it’s going to be HARD.

I’m heading out of town for a few days this week for a work conference, and you know what that means? Four hours on a plane each way to read!

 

What did I read during the last week?

In brand-new fiction:

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood: I’m really surprised by how many negative reviews there are on Goodreads for this book. I gave it 5 stars! My review is here.

In audiobooks:

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell: I finished the audiobook (as a reread), and loved it. Still not sure I get everything about the Insidious Humdrum, but oh well. At least I’m ready to dive right in when the sequel comes out this week!

In middle grade:

Dead Voices by Katherine Arden: The follow-up to Small Spaces, Dead Voices is another fun ghost adventure for middle grade readers. It’s got some good thrills and chills (nothing too terrifying) and a nice focus on friendship and family.

And in graphic novels…

The Walking Dead, volume 32: Rest in Peace: I can’t believe it’s all over! While the TV series may keep going for decades longer, the comic series has come to an end. Rest in Peace is actually a very good ending for this series, which has had some ups and downs, but overall, has been an incredible journey.

Pop Culture

I couldn’t resist — I went ahead and started season 3 of Veronica Mars. And I’ve got the same mixed feelings about this season as I had the first time around. But hey, on the bright side, when I finish this season, I’ll have the movie up next!

And speaking of movies, I took myself to see this over the weekend:

There really isn’t much of a plot, but it doesn’t matter — the whole point is spending a couple more hours with all the characters. And hearing the Dowager Countess get in some good zingers.

Fresh Catch:

I treated myself to two books this week:

An adorable hardcover edition of Little Women, to go with my copy of Anne of Green Gables from the same series (Puffin in Bloom); and…

… this amazing-looking two-sided, accordion-style book. Can’t wait to start it!

I also hit the big library sale last week, and showed remarkable self-restraint! I spent $30 and came home with 11 books. Not too shabby!

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

The Institute by Stephen King: I’ve just barely started it, so I’m not into the story yet. I may put this one aside temporarily, since I have the hardcover edition and don’t want to take it on the plane with me.

Now playing via audiobook:

Kopp Sisters on the March by Amy Stewart: Book 5 in the terrific Kopp Sisters series. Even though I received a print ARC of this book a couple of months ago, I decided to hold off and wait for the audiobook. So far, I’ve listened to the audiobooks for the whole series, and the narrator is amazing!

Ongoing reads:

Two ongoing book group reads right now:

  • The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens — Instead of going at my group’s pace, I decided to just push through to the end via Serial Reader. I think I’ll be done in the next few days! Finally.
  • Virgins by Diana Gabaldon — Finishing this week!

So many books, so little time…

boy1

The Monday Check-In ~ 9/16/2019

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life. 

I’m down to the last two weeks in a cast. I’m much better at functioning with one hand — but I’ll be happy to move on.

What did I read during the last week?

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow: Lovely story. My review is here.

Reticence by Gail Carriger: I finished the audiobook last week. My review is here.

Pop Culture

I just finished season 2 of Veronica Mars last night. Now what? I know I’ll probably end up continuing straight on to season 3, but not without some qualms. I remember hating that season when it originally aired and swore to pretend it never happened… but for continuity’s sake, I guess I can’t ignore it forever. Sigh.

Fresh Catch:

My two most highly anticipated releases for fall 2019 both came out this week! My book mail made me very happy.

Also, a family member who shares my interest in true-life survival stories sent me this book this week:

Looks terrific! I think I’m going to save it for my flights to and from a conference later this month.

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood: I’ve made it through about half so far, and I’m loving it.

Now playing via audiobook:

Doing an audiobook re-read of Carry On before the release of the sequel. I can’t believe how much I’d forgotten about the story… but that’s okay, it gives me a chance to be surprised and entertained all during my listening adventure.

Ongoing reads:

Two ongoing book group reads right now:

  • The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens — I’ve basically given up on keeping up with our group read of this book, but since I’m determined to finish it, I’m switching over to Serial Reader and tackling it in small daily chunks instead.
  • Virgins by Diana Gabaldon — I’ve read this novella a couple of times before, but it’s great fun to reread it with the group. We’ll be done by the end of the month.

So many books, so little time…

boy1

Book Review: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Carry OnIf you’ve read Rainbow Rowell’s absolutely adorable novel Fangirl (review), you’ll be familiar with the name Simon Snow. As in, the hero of the (fictional) bestselling series about a boy wizard who learns at age 11 that he’s the Chosen One, and embarks on a new life at a (fictional) school of magic. In Fangirl, the main character writes wildly popular Simon Snow fan fiction, entitled Carry On, Simon.

In Rainbow Rowell’s newest novel, Carry On, we have the continuation of Simon’s story — but not the canon version, from the (fictional) official series author, but the fanfic story, picking up where Cath’s tale leaves off in Fangirl.

Confused yet?

Carry On is set completely within the magical fantasy world of the Simon Snow series. Simon is the main character, and alternates narration with his best friend Penelope, girlfriend Agatha, roommate and archnemesis Baz, and a handful of others as well, including the Mage, the all-powerful but highly controversial headmaster of the Watford School of Magicks.

It’s the eighth and final year of their magical education, and Simon return to Watford determined to confront Baz and figure out how to defeat the Humdrum, the big evil who’s menacing the entire world of magic. But Baz doesn’t show up as expected, and Simon becomes consumed by the idea of tracking down Baz, searching the school and the Catacombs for him night after night.

Finally, when Baz shows up, Simon is forced to share with him a secret — that Baz’s mother’s ghost visited, and wants Baz to learn the truth about her death. Reluctantly, the two boys declare a truce, and set out to solve the mystery, along the way poking at the edges of the myths and prophecies of the magical community, defying the prejudices of the old families, and trying to figure out just why they’re so obsessed with each other.

As in the fanfic we read in Fangirl, the heart of Carry On is the relationship between Simon and Baz. Underneath the enmity that simmered between them for all the years they were forced to be roommates is a strong and steady and mutual attraction, which the boys finally acknowledge and explore in Carry On. It’s sweet and funny and tender, and well, complicated too. Baz hides the secret that he’s a vampire, which isn’t as much of a problem for Simon as he would have expected. Their differences are acknowledged, and they’re just so friggin’ cute together that we know they’ll figure it all out in the end.

The magical mysteries — where did Simon come from? what’s up with the prophecy? what or who is the Humdrum? — all get resolved by the end, although I’m not sure that every answer is 100% satisfying. I mean, the bit with the Humdrum and how he’s finally stopped didn’t totally work for me, and I wanted Simon to get more of an answer about his parents. As far as I could tell, even though we readers find out the truth, Simon doesn’t, and that doesn’t seem fair.

Overall, I loved this book. It’s just so gosh-darned cute! The spells that they cast aren’t faux-Latin as in a certain series that we all know and love — in the world of Simon Snow, words have power, and the more certain words are used, the more power they have. So, the spells are all cliches, from “up, up, and away” to “stay cool” to “suck it up”, and it never stops being funny to see how they work.

Carry On is great fun for anyone who’s read and enjoyed certain children’s fantasy series — especially Harry Potter, of course. There are all sorts of winking references to the world and lore of Harry Potter, and it’s done with such an air of excitement and amusement that it feels like an homage, not a parody. Having read Fangirl, I’m not really in a position to judge whether Carry On works as a stand-alone… although if I had to guess, I’d say it would still be enjoyable on its own. Still, if you’re going to read Carry On, I’d strongly suggest starting with Fangirl to get the background and flavor of the Simon Snow phenomenon.

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The details:

Title: Carry On
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Publication date: October 6, 2015
Length: 522 pages
Genre: Young adult/fantasy
Source: Purchased

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Book Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Book Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

FangirlFangirl is so adorable, I didn’t know whether to read it or hug it.

This sweet, funny, charming novel tells the story of Cath Avery, a college freshman who just isn’t quite ready to leave her childhood comforts and touchstones behind. Cath is a twin, and she and sister Wren have been inseparable their entire lives… until Wren abruptly informs Cath that she wants them to live apart in college, try something new and meet new people. Cath is devastated. She has no interest in making friends and meeting new people; she and Wren have lived together for eighteen years — why stop now?

On top of that, their dad is not the most stable of guys, tending toward the manic end of the bipolar spectrum without someone around to make sure he’s eating, sleeping, and generally keeping it together. Ever since their mother left, just after 9/11 when the girls were eight years old, Cath and Wren have kept their dad on an even keel, and Cath is terrified that he’ll lose it without them around every day.

Now that she’s lost Wren as a roommate and built-in best friend, one of the unwelcome adjustments required in Cath’s new college life is her brash and irritable roommate Reagan, who seems to be constantly shadowed by her best friend Levi, a sunny older boy who is just always around… and who somehow manages to work his way into Cath’s reluctant heart.

The biggest change of all is the impact of college life on the twins’ obsession with Simon Snow. In the world of Fangirl, Simon Snow is the fictional main character of a series of books set in a magical world. Think Harry Potter, with a few twists. Simon Snow is simply the biggest thing ever, with a huge fanbase that’s getting crazier and crazier as the publication of the 8th and final book in the series approaches. Cath and Wren have always loved Simon Snow and are immersed in the world of fanfiction — or at least they were. Wren seems to have left it all behind in her quest to grow up and be a “normal” college girl, with all the drinking, partying, and boyfriends that entails, while Cath wants nothing more than to live in her Simon Snow “fic” world for as long as she can.

Cath isn’t just a regular old fan, though — she’s the incredibly popular author of Carry On, Simon, which has become the hottest fanfic in the Snow-verse. Each new installment by “Magicath” gets tens of thousands of hits, and Cath can think of nothing better than spending hours writing about Simon and the boy-on-boy romance she’s created for him with his archnemesis Baz.

Fangirl follows Cath through her first year of college, through the ups and downs of her relationship with Wren, her worries about her dad, her growing romance with Levi, and her struggles to define herself as a writer, both in the world of Simon  Snow and in the context of her advanced fiction writing course — presided over by a professor who just doesn’t “get” fanfiction and won’t allow it in her students’ writing.

This is the third book I’ve read by Rainbow Rowell, and once again I’m just incredibly impressed by her talent. In Fangirl, she’s created not one but two fictional worlds. The story of Cath and her growth and development at college is convincing and feels authentic, and at the same time, Rainbow Rowell has created a fiction-within-fiction world for the story of Simon Snow that makes it feel like a real, well-thought out book series. Actually, I suppose you could say that there are three worlds going on in Fangirl, because I don’t see how you couldn’t count Cath’s fanfiction creation as a story all its own. By the end of Fangirl, I wanted to know not only how Cath’s life would work out, but both versions of Simon Snow’s as well!

Cath’s inner life is well-described throughout. She’s scared and reclusive, yearning for connection but afraid of it too, wanting to write but not willing to leave her fanfic behind or relegate it to 2nd place. I loved Cath’s insecurities and fears, her love for her father, her anger toward Wren even while she misses her sister desperately. Perhaps most charming of all is Cath’s friendship with Levi. Levi is the boy everyone wishes they met in college. He’s sweet and smart, caring without being controlling, always there for Cath when she needs him, and funny and positive to boot. I loved that Cath and Levi could explore their feelings, not without complications or issues, but at least without the trite contrivance of an unnecessary love triangle. In fact, I thought early on that the plot was setting up a triangle, and when that didn’t turn out to be the case, I felt like raising a banner with a big “THANK YOU RAINBOW ROWELL” on it. What a relief!

Rowell’s writing is full of sparkling humor and zippy dialogue. Even when serious matters are arise, there are plenty of funny and quirky moments to lighten the mood. I love this moment, among many, which uses a pop-culture reference point as almost a throw-away quip, yet really sets a great tone (and made me snicker):

Reagan was sitting at Cath’s desk when Cath woke up.

“Are you awake?”

“Have you been watching me sleep?”

“Yes, Bella. Are you awake?”

Probably my only quibble with Fangirl has to do with names. Cath is short for Cather, and it took me the longest time to realize that yes, Cather is in fact her name and not a nickname. The explanation for Cath’s name (and Wren’s too) was just too cutesy by far for me to believe, and felt like a forced joke that didn’t work at all in the context of an otherwise totally believable (if not terribly functional) family dynamic. This is a small complaint, however, and certainly didn’t detract from my enjoyment of Fangirl for more than a moment or two.

Overall, I loved Fangirl. It doesn’t have the emotional punch of Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park, which took my breath away with the sorrow and hurt of its characters. In Fangirl, Cath goes through quite a lot, but it’s mostly a happy book about a young woman coming into her own, finding out who she is and what she wants, and learning how to be her own person. Cath’s experiences during her freshman year of college include unique elements, yet feel universal. For anyone who has suffered through meeting strange new roommates, figured out to maneuver through a dorm dining hall, or confronted a professor who just doesn’t get your work, reading Fangirl will be a nostalgic, emotional journey back to those days of excitement and confusion.

Filled with strong writing and original, well-developed characters, Fangirl is a joy to read — and it’s sure to especially delight readers who, no matter their age, still get a secret thrill from flipping back through their Harry Potter collection… again and again and again.

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The details:

Title: Fangirl
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication date: 2013
Genre: Young adult/New adult
Source: Purchased