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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Victoria's Rainbow Rowell Love Rave

Have you ever found a book (or series) - or maybe had one recommended to you - that you initially weren't sure about, but then it stole your heart and turned you into a raving, die-hard fan? We'll call it a Book, just to differentiate here from books that you love or that have meaning for you, but didn't affect you in that certain special way. Everyone has a Book. Some people have more than one. Some have more than a few. But even if you've read several Books in your life, there's always room for one more. In fact, I spend most of my book-browsing time looking for a new Book, one that will take it's place next to the others on the bookshelf of my heart (sorry, I know it's cheesy, but you get what I mean). I've been lucky to find many such Books throughout my life: Harry Potter was the biggest one, of course, but sitting next to it are The Night Circus, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, the works of John Green, The Perks of Being a Wallflower (though I'll admit to being late to that particular party), Stephen King's On Writing, and maybe a couple more (Shakespeare just has a whole shelf to himself). These are the Books that I recommend most often. They are the ones I can always go back to when I'm feeling sad, lonely, or maybe just a little nostalgic.

Not too long ago, Michelle gave me an arc that she thought I might like. It was Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor and Park. I thought it looked interesting, but it certainly didn't look like a Book, so I didn't expect much more than an enjoyable read. I liked the cartoon-ish cover. I liked that it took place in the 80's. I even liked the title. So I took it home and decided I'd read it if I found the time.

I don't remember when I started the book, but I vividly remember finishing it. It was the middle of the night, and I was sitting on the balcony outside my apartment, facing the large pond in the center of the complex. It was dark, it was quiet, but even if I would have been in the middle of a hurricane, I wouldn't have noticed. I was completely absorbed in that unassuming little book. I finished it sitting on that balcony, and I remember feeling both amazing and empty at the same time. My thought we're going a mile a minute, and I could hardly focus on anything. I felt like I was waking up from a vivid dream, not sure what was dream and what was reality.

It's a quiet book, and because it's so quiet, you hear what it's saying all the more powerfully. It's a story about rising above hard circumstances, bullying, living life, dealing with the bad times and appreciating the good, and of course, at the root of it all, friendship and love and how the two intertwine in strange and wonderful ways. Eleanor isn't a perfect girl. She's not the typical teenager. She defies stereotype in so many ways. So does Park. They are not "two teenagers in love," they are just wholly themselves. Best of all, they feel real. They feel believable. I feel like I know them, like there's more of them to know than what's written on the page. It was a beautiful thing to read and experience.

As soon as I finished Eleanor and Park, I knew it was a Book. I knew I was going to recommend it to as many people as I possibly could convince to read it. Eleanor and Park convinced me of the genius of Rainbow Rowell, but I couldn't help believing that Eleanor and Park was an anomaly. It was different. Even if I read Rowell's other works, they couldn't ever compare to Eleanor and Park. It's just not possible that an author can write two books (not in a series) that could be that wonderful.

Then I read Fangirl.

Reading Fangirl was an entirely unique experience, even different from Eleanor and Park. I could relate to Eleanor and Park. Just about anyone could, I'm sure, because they're the kind of characters that go deep, no matter what your high school experience was like (In fact, mine was nothing like theirs). But I connected with Fangirl on an entirely different level. This was the first time in my life that I've ever felt so completely like I was reading pieces of my own life and mind on the pages of a book. I couldn't put the book down. And even when I had to, I couldn't stop raving about it. It just felt so strongly that Rainbow Rowell, a person I've never met, GOT me. She understood the things that people never understand. She knows what it's like to love something so much that it becomes as much a tangible part of your life as the people you talk to every day. She understands how it feels to be misunderstood, ridiculed, looked at strangely, or just plain reviled for the fact that you love something that much. She also gets the immediate connection you feel when you find another person who feels the same way, who loves the same things. I couldn't believe how much absolute truth I found in her fiction. And I know it's not just me. Tons of others feel the same way about Fangirl. I have a tumblr. I've seen it. I've watched people fall in love with Fangirl through their posts on Tumblr and twitter and blogs. It's an amazing experience to be part of a fandom for something that exemplifies fandom in such a unique way.

Fangirl, for those who don't know, is about Cath, a fanfiction-writing fangirl for the Simon Snow series (a fictional series, unfortunately). Cath's novel-length fanfiction, Carry On Simon, is famous, read by tons and tons of Simon Snow fans all around the world. The story focuses on Cath through her first year of college as she navigates new friends, dorm life, classes, family trouble, and love, all while trying to finish Carry On Simon before the last Simon Snow book is released and the story ends forever. Cath struggles with how to find a place for Simon Snow in her life as she enters adulthood, something I know many fans of many things (ahem...Harry Potter, anyone?) have struggled with over the years. Can it still hold the same special place in your heart now as it did when you were a child? Are you ever too old for something? Can you be a fangirl/boy AND a respectable adult simultaneously? Fangirl explores all these questions as it follows shy, introverted Cath through her hectic, hilarious, relatable, and often poignant first year of college. This book is required reading for anyone who has ever been proud to call themselves a geek or a nerd. This book is fandom in words. It's a beautiful thing.

So, to sum up this rather lengthy post: Read Rainbow Rowell. You won't regret it. There's even a good chance she could change your life, that these books could become Books for you too. And that's a chance you should always take.

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