20

YA Fiction is becoming a thing I read

A few weeks ago I read Fangirl. When I finished it, I knew it would only be a matter of time until I read Eleanor & Park too.

Once I get an idea like that into my head, it’s not going to be very long until I make it happen. I’m not really one for delayed gratification.

Eleanor & Park is completely different from Fangirl. I think I liked Fangirl better but Eleanor & Park is till pretty awesome.

The major difference is that Fangirl comes to us complete with 21st century complications: texting and fan fiction and emails and constant connectivity, even for someone hiding from real life. Eleanor & Park takes us back to 1986 where some people (in this case Eleanor) didn’t even have a home phone. The book becomes much more about the relationship face-to-face (awkward) rather than all the distractions we’ve all become so used to.

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Eleanor is the new girl on the bus and she has nowhere to sit. She’s wearing men’s clothes with all sorts of things pinned to them and has bright red hair. She’s an easy target so Park urges her to sit down beside him. Every day they ride the bus together and neither of them says a word. Park notices that she reads his comics with him so he starts waiting for her to read them at the same time. Then he brings her comics to take home with her. She reads each of them several times, careful to return them to him in perfect condition.

And slowly but surely their unlikely relationship takes off. They come from very different worlds: Park lives in a typical family home with his parents, who love each other, and his little brother; Eleanor has just returned home which is a room shared with her four brothers and sisters and a stepdad who is quick to anger.

I have to say that I really appreciated the fact that the romance between these two is so off. Not only do they come from very different backgrounds, but neither of them are the popular kids at school. This isn’t a Bella and Edward thing where one of them can’t believe they could be with someone so cool. Each of them marvels at the fact that they like this other person so much and didn’t see it right away. They are both living in their own heads, with their own insecurities about their bodies, their friends and their families. They are trying to figure out who they are while they navigate the torture chamber that is highschool and make this whole relationship thing work out.

The thing that everyone says about Eleanor & Park is that Rainbow Rowell didn’t chicken out with the ending. The story happens over the course of one school year between a pair of 16 year olds. Most relationships at that age don’t work out. I’m not certain that the ending is as cut and dried as everyone made it out to be though. But life is never black and white either and Rowell once again expertly crafts a true to life relationship that feels authentic but not forced.

On a somewhat related note, my sister (who made me read The Fault in Our Stars) read Me Before You on my recommendation this week. She had some pretty choice words for me when she finished it as she felt I didn’t adequately prepare her for the ending. I feel like now we’re even for that whole Augustus Waters thing!

15

Sometimes My Little Sister Knows Best

One time, I was having a discussion with my then 12-year old sister about books and reading and coming up with some titles that I thought she might enjoy.

She flipped out and stomped out of the room yelling for me not to tell her what to read before slamming her door.

It’s one of my favourite memories.

These days we’re much more likely to trade recommendations. Most of the time these solicit an eye roll from me. Since my sister is 17 she’s much more likely to be found reading YA fiction than anything. She’s the reason I read Twilight. It took years for me to recover from that enough to get started on The Hunger Games. Which led, very indirectly, to Divergent. Last week she leant me The Fault in Our Stars and then I ended up buying Fangirl on her recommendation.

She is now a part of a very select group of people who can recommend books to me.

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I read The Fault in Our Stars in the car on our way to our long weekend retreat. I read almost straight through, right until the sketchy ending when it got too dark and I wanted to read privately anyway because I knew this was going to get messy.

I’m the last human to read this book right? So I don’t need to tell you that The Fault in Our Stars is about Hazel Grace Lancaster and her fight against terminal cancer? That her mom forces her to go to support group that she hates but which is where she meets (the amazingly named) Augustus Waters?  And then he reads this book that she is obsessed with and he becomes equally obsessed so he uses his Wish (through a Make-A-Wish type foundation) to take her to Amsterdam to find out what happens to the characters in the book because it just abruptly ends?

And everything is so wonderful and great, aside from the whole cancer thing, and then everything falls apart and you’re left sobbing quietly in a room away from other people because you’re an unholy mess of snot? You all already know that stuff?

Right. So I was prepared for sadness but I wasn’t prepared for how much. Or for how thoughtful and intelligent Hazel and Augustus both are. The book is brilliant and poetic and filled with so much hope despite the devastating ending. I found myself thinking about teenagers in a whole new way. I mean, if they are all losing their minds for this beautifully eloquent book, then they will probably all be OK in the end right?

So after using Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (Agatha Christie is always called for on long weekends) to get back my book equilibrium, I was ready for Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl.

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Cath and Wren are twin sisters who have always shared everything, including a deep and abiding love of the Simon Snow books. Each is active in the Simon Snow fan fiction world. But when they go off to college and Wren decides that they need to have other roommates so that they can get out in the world more, Cath is left to her own devices for the first time. She ends up rooming with Reagan who makes no secret of the fact that she doesn’t want a roommate and Cath retreats further and further away from the real world in favour of the fictional world of Simon Snow.

But life has a way of getting in the way despite all our best efforts doesn’t it? Cath can’t help but notice her sister seems to be drinking a lot and her dad doesn’t seem right when she talks to him on the phone and the higher level fiction writing class she asked to take part in doesn’t seem to be going the way she thought it would.

That’s before we even get to the boys in Cath’s life or the estranged mom.

I loved it. I was completely swept away by Rowell’s charming characters. Here’s another author that knows how to channel the teenaged voice but in a way that doesn’t diminish what they feel or force grown up emotions on them. Cath is very nearly a full person, figuring out how it all pieces together in the end. It’s no wonder legions of young people love this author – she gets them.

I’m told that Eleanor and Park is even better. For now, my sister wants to borrow Fangirl to read it again.