I enjoyed Eleanor and Park (2013) very much, but I was much less keen on this overlong second novel by Rainbow Rowell.
Cath Avery is making a poor job of navigating her first year at college. She was expecting to hang out with her twin, but Wrenn has struck out on her own. Cath’s roommate, Reagan, is rather intimidating, and Cath’s writing partner in her fiction class seems to be stealing her work. But she can, at least, escape into the world of the Harry Potter-esque Simon Snow, and has her place in that world as an enormously successful fan fiction writer.
I was irritated by Cath’s drippiness, and eye-rolled my way through her frequent outbreaks of crying. How this sullen, almost silent, girl ends up attracting the charming and affable Levi is something of a mystery that I think has more to do with authorial wish-fulfillment than real life.
The novel is interspersed with excerpts from both the ‘real’ Simon Snow novels and Cath’s fanfic, usually presaging something that’s about to happen in Cath’s life. I found these extracts to be rather too long in places – particularly when Levi wants Cath to read to him (what a bookish girl fantasy that is!) – and though I mostly enjoyed these Potter-esque sections, I don’t think I’ll be seeking out Carry On (2015), Rowell’s Simon novel.
There are some interesting ideas bubbling around the idea of creative writing. Cath finds herself so much more comfortable with fanfic, writing about someone else’s world and characters – but is this plagiarism, as her fiction professor believes? And does she really need a professor to tell her to use characters and situations from her own life instead?
I listened to this book and really enjoyed much of it, but I found the pace of the second half really slow, as we wound to the inevitable conclusion. Nonetheless, Cath is a credible and sympathetic portrait of an introverted young woman, and I understand why this book is so popular with many of my library-lurking students.