Saturday, July 26, 2014

Author Spotlight: Rainbow Rowell

One author who has been really popular lately is Rainbow Rowell, an American writer of Young Adult and Adult books.  I hadn't heard of her prior to this year, but I became intrigued when I saw that she is adored by many different types of readers, not just people who love YA or people who love contemporary fiction.

Because of this, I checked her out and ended up reading all of her books within the past four months.

As of right now, she has four published books: Attachments (2011), Eleanor and Park (2013), Fangirl (2013), and Landline, which was just released in July.

Mini-Reviews

The first Rowell book I read was Eleanor and Park.  This novel is about two misfit teenagers who meet on a bus and begin a relationship but who are also dealing with deeper issues in their separate lives.

This book came highly recommended to me, so I picked it up with no real expectations.  Once I got a quarter of the way in, though, I already loved it, and I ended up reading it in one sitting.

Eleanor is a strong female protagonist with her own mind and plenty of spunk, so I really admired her.  She has a lot of family issues that are heavy and dark, but that doesn't extinguish her own light.  But at the same time, she has fears and insecurities that are relatable for the typical teenage girl.

I completely fell in love with Park.  For one, it's great to see Asian male protagonists in literature that isn't about being Asian.  Secondly, I really liked that he is an atypical romantic interest in that he's super skinny, kind of punk, quiet, and reads comic books.  He's also not perfect.  Sometimes he's not brave, and he can be really prideful and self-centered.  But in the moments that truly count, he is Eleanor's hero, and it makes it so much better because he wasn't built up to be the whole book through.

I liked the characters a lot, but I couldn't relate to the circumstances of their lives very much.  I don't necessarily have to be able to connect with a character in order to learn from them, but my own life is so different from theirs that I couldn't take away much from their experiences.

I really enjoyed this read, and I gave it 4 stars.



Attachments is an adult novel about a man named Lincoln who gets hired to monitor a company's email servers and ends up "eavesdropping" on the personal correspondence of two women, Beth and Jennifer.  Through reading their emails to each other, he ends up falling in love with one of them.

The three main characters were completely likeable and realistic.  But the one who I really related to was Jennifer, since she's married and what she goes through very closely follows my personal experiences.

The friendship between Beth and Jennifer, their banter, fighting, and support for each other, was a delight to read.  Even though it was solely told through the medium of their emails, I got a very full picture of who each woman is and what their relationship looks like.  Nothing was lost in Rowell's choice to tell the story that way.

The development of the relationship between Lincoln and Beth was something that I rooted for but that I wasn't completely invested in.  I was a lot more interested in seeing Lincoln develop as a character in other areas of his life, with his career choices and at home.

I gave this book 3.5 stars.

I love this cover, by the way.
After reading those two, I picked up Fangirl, which I was the most excited to read.  It is about a girl name Kath who goes to college for her freshman year and is completely terrified of it.  She's not very social and hates trying new things.  Instead, she leaves that to her completely opposite identical twin sister, Wren, who is vibrant and chatty.  Usually, the two of them create an inseparable pair, but Wren decides that she doesn't want to room together when they get to university, so Kath is left foundling by herself.  The only thing that Kath really feels passionate about is Simon Snow (an homage to Harry Potter) and writing Simon Snow fan fiction.

Being a Harry Potter fangirl myself, and with clear memories of moving in for freshman year of university, I really related to Kath.  I am not as anti-social as she is, but I understood each of her fears and hesitations.  Her obsession with Simon Snow was depicted so realistically, as well as just fandom in general.  In reading this book, I could tell that Rainbow Rowell has been involved in the fan fiction community because it read true to reality.

Each of the characters were really well written.  I especially liked the friendship that formed between Kath and her roommate, Reagan, who is edgy and harsh at first.  I thought that they balanced each other out well and created a relationship dynamic that was fun to read.

Kath's relationship with Levi was so well developed.  It grew slowly and settled into something so solid and warm that it was almost reassuring to me.  I felt like, no matter what else Kath had to face, she would be fine because Levi would be there for her.

What was surprising to me was that this book dealt with so many deeper issues than just college or fan life.  Mental illness, divorce, and abandonment are central themes in this book.  A lot of Kath and Wren's lives are built around the fact that their mother left them.  The way that Rowell has each of them work through that is so beautiful and true.  And Kath's development through these issues made her that much better of a character.

This is my favorite Rainbow Rowell book to date, and I gave it 4.5 stars.

Lastly, I picked up Landline, which is about Georgie McCool, a woman who knows that her marriage is in trouble but doesn't know what to do about it until a magic phone connects her to her husband 13 years ago, before they were married.

I was highly anticipating this release.  I was excited that it deals with marriage since I am married; moreover, having read all of her previous books, I was certain that I would enjoy this one.

While I did like it, it is not my favorite of her works.

I understood all of the issues in Georgie and Neal's marriage.  At the root of it all, it boiled down to selfishness and the incompatibility of their desires.  Those are very common areas of disagreement in relationships in general, and part of committing to another person is the battle between self and spouse.

This is the very reason that this book frustrated me, though.  I found Georgie to be so self-centered that I almost disliked her.  I wanted her to wake up!  She was bemoans their marriage and their problems without admitting that most of them are direct causes of her singular focus on what she wants over what is best for the family as a whole.

I also wished that the book focused more on their marriage and the breakdown of it and less on the magical realism.  The entire phone aspect was interesting only as far as it drove the plot forward, but in and of itself it wasn't so impressive.  Had all of the time and energy Georgie put into thinking about the logistics of the magical yellow rotary been put into dissecting her marriage and where things went bad, I would have gotten much more out of their story.

I gave this one 3 stars.

Wrap-Up

Rowell does a great job of creating realistic characters that don't come shrink-wrapped.  Meaning, she doesn't deal in mass produced characters. Her characters are overweight (Eleanor is described as "fat"), unfashionable, and nerdy.  Instead of writing about characters people wish they were, she writes about real people.

Her dialogue is well-written, too.  She's excellent at writing realistic wit and being true to each character's voice.  She doesn't make them sound too smart or too clever.

Her books are really easy to read, as well.  Every one of them I read in one day.  They are paced well and flow beautifully.  If there are deeper issues, they are hidden in the story instead of protruding out of the narrative and causing you to stumble over them.

Rowell writes like someone I would want to be friends with in real life.  I will gladly read anything and everything she writes in the future and would recommend her books without hesitancy.