Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Book Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Release Date: September 10, 2013
Source: Netgalley via publisher - thank you!
Published by: St. Martin's Press

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

A coming-of-age tale of fan fiction, family and first love. 

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan . . .

But for Cath, being a fan is her life — and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?

Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?


Rainbow Rowell, you are a goddess. It's like you heard all my rants about New Adult. It's like you knew that the genre could be so much more and decided you'd give it a shot. And then because of your awesomeness, you suddenly became one of my auto-buy authors.

Ten Likes/Dislikes:

1. (+) Cath, the protagonist - In perusing reviews about Fangirl, it seems that the most divisive topic is Cath, and whether you like Cath will affect your entire experience of the book. I don't think that you necessarily need to identify with Cath so much as feel for her situation. Cath comes to college with a slew of social anxiety--and sometimes it's painful to watch. She's shy and bereft of her former BFF sister, Wren, who refused to room with her. She stays in her room instead of going to the dining hall because she's scared (of the new situation? of being without her sister? of her beautifully confident older roommate?), doesn't know much about campus (and calls 911 when walking about at night; very smart, very self-conscious), and has established a routine of eating protein bars instead of actual food. She retreats when afraid, when her safety net has been destroyed. This situation is summed by: "In new situations, all the trickiest rules are the ones nobody bothers to explain to you. (And the ones you can't Google.)." Would it bother you to read about someone who's lost in the beginning? Personally I didn't experience the same sort of anxiety that Cath did when I started college, but I know some people who did and I could picture it clearly. And when Cath came out of her shell, her fantastic character shined. She's not just the reclusive writer of a popular fanfiction but also a brave, loyal, funny, easily hurt introverted girl with unflinching principles and heart. Although she's a tad judgmental regarding drinking/partying/etc., I could admire her bravery for not falling for peer pressure and for her desire to care for her sister even when Wren wasn't the nicest person. She's not perfect--far from it--but a lot of her vulnerabilities are things you can easily relate to. My feelings on Cath align closely with those stated in this review.
2. (+) World-building AKA College Setting - Unlike Cath, I didn't go to a big state university, but the college scene is generally portrayed well. From the assignments Cath receives from her creative writing professor to the feel of the college library where she works on an assignment with a friend to managing your social life along with your school work to not always knowing where everything is on your suddenly somehow large campus to your finals appearing out of nowhere to the frenzied energy of freshmen SO READY FOR THE COLLEGE EXPERIENCE --- yes, everything set the scene wonderfully.
3. (+) Romance - I found it fairly obvious who the romantic interest would be from the start, but don't read this section if you're super afraid of spoilers. Never have I thought that I'd find an extrovert who smiles at everyone and is so jolly about life actually attractive, especially since he doesn't like to read. Levi is the charmer, the social one who's always on good terms with others and who you can always count on (to do any good deed), the one who you can't help liking but who has vulnerable sides too. Levi's charisma is so catchy that even when he does something terrible, you, like Cath, will eventually forgive him. And I also didn't think a receding hairline could be attractive but again Rowell surprises me. Opposites attract? Definitely in this novel. Plus, neither Levi nor Cath change who they are while they are dating.
4. (+) Nostalgia - I read this back in May, not long after I'd graduated from college, and oh my god, the nostalgia. So perfectly portrayed. The dining hall experience, the people watching, the creative writing professor who's anti-fan fiction for Cath but was anti-genre for me, the months that are like years in collegespeak, the dorm room life, social and otherwise, the confusion over what exactly this new experience would entail, decorating your room with your roommate, the shock of meeting your new roommate, adjusting (from being a social misfit--or continuing to be one), the shock of classes and the work and suddenly all coalescing... However, since this was written from nerdy Cath's perspective, there's not much to see about the party perspective or drinking (well, besides Judgment on her twin, Wren). In fact, there's almost a stigma because every stupid character decision seems to result from that person having been drunk or drinking and Wren especially doesn't do anything in moderation. There is definitely a danger as a freshman of overdoing yourself, but it didn't seem like you got to see someone in moderation being okay. But that's totally a personal preference, and one thing you'll have to do is reconcile that your experiences may also be different from Cath's, even with the wonderfully portrayed nostalgia.
5. (+) Fan fiction - Simon Snow is basically a weird mix of Twilight and Harry Potter (which for me answered the question of why HP still existed in this fictional world.). It alternates between Cath's story and the fan fiction she's writing for Simon Snow and her dedicated fans. I skimmed over the fan fiction because it didn't quite interest me, but regardless the appreciation of all fan fiction truly shows. In her acknowledgements, Rainbow Rowell confesses to having read a bunch of fan fiction, and it shows. It really, really shows, and thank you to Ms. Rowell for not shaming fan fiction as sometimes happens. This is the perfect book for people who've grown up with HP but might ask what comes next. Perfect book for fan fiction writers. Perfect for those who want to address tough questions on ownership and creative license. Perfect for writers in general because even though her creative writing professor doesn't accept fan fiction, she sees the potential in Cath and takes her writing seriously.
6. (+) Character Cast - This is definitely a character-driven book. Reagan is Cath's spunky, loyal roommate who becomes her friend when she eases Cath out of her shell. She also likes to slam doors, is constantly in a hurry, and is a wonderful contrast to Cath's self-consciousness. Cath's twin, Wren, wants to meet new people and have new experiences separate from her twin because she wants something of her own. Problem is, she tries to do this in rather extreme terms, yet Cath can't help but remember all the good times with Wren, the times when they used to write Simon Snow fan fiction together. And of course, there's Cath's father who suffers from manic episodes but who's not defined by his mental illness. He's the perfect combination of quirky and loving, creative and energetic, strong and vulnerable. And Rowell gets bonus points for including a mentally ill character in the first place.
7. (+) Character Growth - The best part about Cath's journey is not just the character growth that she undergoes but the realization that comes with it: that it's okay to be an introvert, to not jump wildly into the various college experiences but to ease yourself into the new situation. Coming-of-age here means handling a lot of drama and thriving in this scarily new place but doing so without changing who she fundamentally is: a hard-working nerd scholar who's socially awkward but so believable.
8. (+) Writing - Although the writing didn't quite captivate me as it did with Eleanor and Park (all those descriptions! so beautiful!), the writing here still shines with authenticity. There's a lot of humor and realistic dialogue and wonderfully poignant situations that I think are captured quite well.
9. (+/-) Pacing - There's a lot going on in this novel - the problems of college, socially and academically, the drama with her family and various other characters - but sometimes I find that pacing in character-driven stories can be slightly off. For me, this book was just a tad slow, a tad hard to get into at first.
10. (+) Cover - What a perfect cover. Cath and her writing, Levi and his obsession with her name. The fan fiction (Baz and Simon are a form of Harry + Draco, no?). The colors and the font. So much love.

Nerds. Introverts. Harry Potter fans (because even if it's a mix of HP & Twilight, it's mostly HP). Fanfiction writers. New Adult fans. YA fans disappointed with current NA work. YA fans. Fans of Gayle Forman, especially Just One Day. Fans of John Green and Stephanie Perkins, YA contemporary romance authors with truthful, believable narratives. Any mix of the above. This one is for you. I've pre-ordered my copy, and I hope you'll consider buying this book too.

40 comments:

  1. I love the way you formatted your review! This book was a little slow but I loved it so much.

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  2. I'm really looking forward to this book and more so after reading your review. I do love character-driven novels and novels where the characters grow. And I love books about college, I don't think there are enough good ones around, especially ones that portray college in a realistic way. Great review! ~Pam

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  3. You'll be glad to hear I preordered this a while back ;D I haven't read a Rainbow Rowell book yet but everything I've heard about her convinces me I will love her books. I love everything that you've listed down about this book, I can't really relate to the social anxiety either but I can imagine how hard it would be. It's great to meet a character who is an introvert and we get to see how she deals with it and how it feels to be in her shoes. There aren't enough books about introverts!


    I have read my fill of fanfiction in the day and dabbled in it though never actually published anything online so no doubt I'm going to be filled with nostalgia when I read this :3

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  4. Everyone is loving this book. O.o I have such a bad luck with hype books that I'm afraid, I'm not going to lie. I don't live on campus because I live a 20 min car ride away from my college and it takes about 40 minutes-an hour to ride there by buses so it's not that bad. Plus, it'd accuire wayyy more money than living at home with my family so yeah.. However, I do imagine what it's like to meet your roommate and decorate one's room etc--all of them without one constant person in your life--a sister. I love doing things with my 16 year old sister and I couldn't imagine her disowning our relationship. It'd hurt bad!! Cath sems like a great character who is capable of growth and overcoming her self-consciousness. I'm glad that you loved the college setting and writing and ahhhhh.. basically every single thing about this pretty. Jenny loved this book with passion as well:) Soooo going to get this one for myself, too! :)

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  5. We are of one mind, Pam. Definitely not enough books set in college that portray it in a realistic way -- Fangirl is a true gem among the few :).

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  6. Thanks! It was a bit slow, but I loved it too :).

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  7. Sarah (Escaping Through Books)September 3, 2013 at 1:01 PM

    This sounds exactly like the type of NA book that I've been hoping to find and read. I've read Rainbow Rowell's adult novel, Attachments, and enjoyed it (but didn't LOVE it). However, I've been seeing so many glowing reviews for her two YA books, especially for Fangirl.


    I think it's so cool that fan fiction is a big part of this story! While I was never a fan fiction writer, I did read some Twilight fan fiction a few years ago after racing through the series (they were my intro to YA books!). I don't read fan fiction anymore because there are too many published books out there that are on my TBR list, but I still think it's pretty cool, especially after hearing how amazing authors like Sarah J. Maas and Susan Dennard learned to write by writing fan fiction.

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  8. Hehe, yay!!! More pre-orders! I actually just convinced another friend to buy it too. There were a few people who weren't fans of her previous book, but I haven't seen as many with regard to this one. Cath is a true introvert, definitely -- on the painful side -- but heh, I always thought that most protagonists in books were introverts (probably a nod to most writers). Yes! The other reviews that I'd read that had a personal connection to fan fiction said that they too had felt nostalgic in that regard, so I hope the book works out for you too :).

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  9. Heh, very true. And especially what you said about your summer books being disappointing - for some reason, hype books become even more disappointing if they don't live up to their name. The dorm room part is just a small aspect of the college portrayal and it sounds like the Cath/Wren dynamic will be enough to tug at your heart strings as is :). I hope you like this book too!!

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  10. RIGHT??? Me too. There are a few NA books that I do really like, but this one is like the perfect example of what I'd wanted but hadn't been getting. I haven't gotten Attachments yet - but what was your issue with it? Or was it not anything really to pinpoint, just a sort of feeling while reading the book?


    Me too. I read a bit of fic during my HP days - what better to do while waiting for the next to come out? But don't read it anymore either. It's a shame that fic is sometimes put to the side when as you said, so many writers like Maas and Dennard started out with fic.

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  11. Sarah (Escaping Through Books)September 3, 2013 at 1:47 PM

    There are also some NA books that I really like (Hopeless by Colleen Hoover comes to mind), but I've also encountered too many unoriginal and poorly written ones. I want more books set in college where the focus is not just about sex.


    I think my problem with Attachments was the pacing. I remember that I loved the beginning of it and the premise of the story as a whole, but the middle was kind of slow. I also felt unsatisfied with the ending, for some reason, but I actually can't really remember how it ended... just that I felt discontented by it. (Sometimes my lack of recollection of what happened in books I read scares me.)

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  12. I haven't read Rainbow's books but everyone loves them, and they sound perfectly simple and sweet like the cover itself! I'm so eager to get to know the characters and live the experience that you've enjoyed so much, thank you for the recommendation! =)

    Alicia @ Summer Next Top Story

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  13. "This is the perfect book for people who've grown up with HP but might ask what comes next." <-- Thus in essence me. TO A TEE.


    I am mildy anxious about reading this book because sometimes it makes me uncomfortable when a character is so relatable that it forces self-introspection and makes me a tad bit uncomfortable. Because I am almost exactly like Cath. And I was BIG TIME into HP fanfiction back in the day and then devastated when there was nothing left of the fandom to get super excited over (thus --> my blog was created). But I also think it's these kinds of books - the ones in which you can relate SO well - that resonate the most. So I will read this and I will love it! Really fantastic review.

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  14. Oh, OK, so you can skip over the fanfic stuff? I was a little concerned about that aspect of this book. That, and I am not at all in any way an introvert, and everyone is saying that relating to the introversion is one of the best things about it.

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  15. Aah, I totally fangirl for Fangirl! Mainly because of the cover and the cartoon-ish elements.


    But I really do hope I'll be able to get my hands on it!

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  16. I think I will really like Cath. It seems like I have many things with her in common and it won't be difficult to identify myself with her. I don't read that many contemporaries, but I think I will really like this one, especially because it has something to do with HP.

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  17. Ohhh what a positive review! I don't know if I would've guessed that you would like this, but of course I'm not sure why I think that since I haven't read it myself. Eleanor Park is one of those authors that is on my radar for the times I decide to be brave enough to venture out of my fantasy/dystopia/sci fi comfort zone. It hasn't quite happened yet, but I think if I were to get my hands on a copy I'd be optimistic and hope for the best. Based on your review I think I would like it, but just as you're unsure about whether or not I'd like a book, I'm the same way! Why is it so hard for me?! haha :P

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  18. Lauren, Love is not a triangleSeptember 4, 2013 at 11:41 AM

    I honestly just skimmed this, because I'm going to read it soon and I can't cloud my head with more reviews. However, I love to see that pretty much everything is a PLUS. I'm also a fan of everything you mentioned at the bottom, so clearly this book is for me. I plan to love it hard!

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  19. #1. Cath. Oh, Cather. Such a different kind of protagonist. I feel like a lot of YA/NA features very out-there, very strident characters, but Cath is the most introverted protagonist I've read in a while. Rowell really hit it out of the park with her. I have some social anxiety so I really understood her actions, but it's lovely too see her resonate with readers who are less shy/anxious.


    #2. Agree on how accurately college life was portrayed! I went to a medium-sized college, and so much of Cath's life reminded me of my one - and only - year in the dorms. Also, how awesome is it to have an older YA that actually shows characters going to class, doing homework? +10 for real life accuracy in my book. And now I am in a wash of nostalgia for both this book and for college.


    #3. I liked the romance. Like you, I had it pegged (I wasn't even slightly deterred by writing-partner-man-whose-name-escapes-me) but it was still enjoyable to watch it play out. Levi was a great characters, and awesomely imperfect.



    #5. The fanfiction was more of a - for me. I liked that Cath was very definitely a writer and dedicated, but the extended sections of just the ff were a slog for me to get through. I admit I even skimmed most of the later ones (and am glad I am not the only one who did that!). Once I realized Simon/Baz is a mishmash of Harry/Draco/Edward, I was out of there. I can appreciate Cath's enthusiasm without needing to actually read it.


    #6. Who wants more Reagan? I DO. I would sign on to a companion book about h her so fast. I would read that. I would love that. The rest of the cast holds up remarkably well (shout out for the awesome father!), but Reagan very nearly stole the show.


    #9. The pacing was one of the very few reasons I couldn't give this a full five stars, so I am 100% with you on that.


    #10. Cover is made of win. I might like E&P's cover slightly more, but I like this book more. A win all around.

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  20. Yay! I hope you get around to her work. I've only read two of her novels so far, but her writing and her characters definitely make for a good reading experience :).

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  21. Yes. Haha, it feels like a love letter to those days - it made me nostalgic for when I'd read HP fanfiction between the novels coming out. Some people found the HP / Simon Snow part a bit weird because of the publication details though - I should warn you of that.


    As for making you uncomfortable... I don't know - I have seen a few other reviewers comment on how similar they are to Cath, but they seemed to find that wonderful for the book because it's so accepting of her introversion. So I hope you do enjoy it when you get the chance to read it :).

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  22. You can skip the fanfic stuff. It's definitely not essential to the story. The introvert part... hmmm. I don't know. You might get frustrated with Cath because of the things she does - that she's so frightened; I've seen quite a few reviews say that her introversion was too much. I'd suggest reading an excerpt and seeing whether you liked her voice enough to continue.

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  23. :) I hope you'll be able to read this soon too, Shannelle! When you do, we can fangirl over it together.

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  24. Me too on contemps, but this one is definitely worth reading. I hope you'll like Cath and the book when you get the chance to read it :). Would be lovely to compare notes!

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  25. :) I think the most important aspect to me liking this was the nostalgia. Seriously. The world of college. It was the perfect read, the perfect recapturing of all those beginning feelings as a freshman. Ohhhh, yeah, you don't like contemporaries much, right? Unless they deal with deeper issues? If I were to recommend one over the other, I'd say Fangirl. Eleanor and Park has beautiful descriptions, but I think Fangirl deals with issues you'd find more compelling, especially since I'd seen some reviews of E&P that suggested it didn't deal with its issues well enough.

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  26. Woo!!! Can't wait to compare notes for when you do read and post your review :). Hahaha, I did wonder if my list at the bottom was a little extensive, but I do hope you love the book as much as I did!

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  27. #1: Right?? I think Rowell really took a risk in including such an introverted protagonist, especially since Cather seems to be the main issue most people have when they don't like the book. Also: "a lot of YA/NA features very out-there, very strident characters," <-- Really? I think there are a bunch of introverts or at least middle ground type of characters, but I do agree that Cather is different from the lot of them :).

    #2: "how awesome is it to have an older YA that actually shows characters going to class, doing homework?" <-- That is my issue with most NA books. And yes. The nostalgia. Ugh. My college started about a week ago, and writing this review took me so long because of it.



    #3. Me too. The other guy was clearly fishy, plus the romantic interest is nearly always introduced right from the start. I've very very rarely seen them not introduced in the beginning chapter(s).


    #5. Lol, yeah. I liked the enthusiasm Cath had for that, but Harry/Draco/Edaward o.O. And also it's hard to care about a fanfiction of a fanfiction within a fiction novel. That's kind of why I didn't bother to slog through it as it sounds like you did.


    #6: YES. Reagan. Reagan is the kind of protagonist I'd love to see more of, especially in YA. You said there were a bunch of out-there types, but I dunno :O. I sense a lack of Reagans.


    #10. ooooo. How dare you like E&P's more??? Hahah - but seriously, I think they're both made of win, only I'd like FG's more because of the brighter colors. And yes, haha, I remember how much you liked E&P ;).

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  28. After reading Eleanor & Park, I have been so excited for this release! I think that Rowell has a lot of potential as a writer, and the bucket-loads of praise aren't hurting anything either ;)


    I haven't been to college, but I would love to read about it and it's really nice to know that Fangirl was able to bring you some nostalgia and sets the college scene well. And I swear that I am already in love with Cath. I'm not a very introverted person, but I can get painfully shy and sometimes when I do open my mouth, I end up saying the wrong thing and embarrassing myself. So, I guess that I can understand Cath's fear? :P


    Also: the fanfiction. Hurrah for fanfiction!


    Great review, Christina!

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  29. I hadn't read your review yet because I hadn't finished writing mine. I had no idea who the love interest would be -- should have guessed. And I didn't see Twilight in her fanfic -- I need to go back and read those parts again. I just loved this book so much!

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  30. Love this review! And yes, Rainbow Rowell is on my auto-buy/read list too! And yes to this being a perfect example of NA lit!


    Totally agree that you don't have to BE like Cath to RELATE to Cath. I'm not an introvert, my college experience was very different, I don't have a twin (or a sister, or even a sibling at all) but I can so, so feel for Cath and her story in every way:)


    And I didn't exactly see the romantic interest--although I REALLY REALLY loved him, almost from the start. So him turning out to be "the one" was just the best thing ever. And yes, receding hairlines as attractive?? Who would have thunk it??


    I thought the fanfiction angle/ writing themes in this book were brilliant. I felt like i had taken a fiction writing/ creative writing course after I read it:) I wonder how much of Mrs. Piper and that class was inspired by real life events in Rowell's life. Like, did she take a college course with a teacher like that?


    The characters in this book are AMAZING. I loved all of them (even the douchey ones!) Reagan was probably my favorite, but I actually really liked Wren too. And of course Levi and his golden smiles:)


    I also loved the issues, they felt real and authentic, but not overblown. And I loved the parental's--I thought Cath's dad Art was a fabulous character.


    I gave this book 5 stars on GR (I don't rate on the blog) it's THAT good. Definitely in my top 5 favorite reads of the year:)

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  31. She truly does. I love her writing style, and so far have had great luck with her two YA titles, so yes. yes. And there is a bucket load of praise, but this time I fall on the side of saying yes, the hype is well worth it!


    Ha, I'm always saying the wrong thing - I called my cousin an Easter egg lol; where's my filter??? I don't think it's necessary to be an introvert to understand her fear, but it does help if you've had similar experiences, which it sounds like you have. Hurrah!


    Yes! The fic aspect was great. I actually just read a review that had some insightful analysis of the fanfic - that it acted as a metaphor for Cath's character growth and that the relationship between the fic characters mirrored another one in the book. I hope you enjoy the fic and how it's included :).

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  32. Lol, the twilight part was just because it was a vampire :). Another reviewer suggested it was Harry/Draco/Edward. Kind of, right? But you actually read the fic so I'd go with your assessment over mine.

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  33. I think it's the mark of Rowell's success/skill that she pulled off such an extreme introvert who others could feel for even if they weren't quite like her :). I have three older brothers, and I have no commonality with the twin part either - but man, imagining that situation! *shudders*


    Eh, the reason why I say it's obvious is because I don't think I've ever read a story in which the love interest is introduced in another chapter besides the first one. (Unless it's a love triangle, multiple love interests, etc.) I wonder if that's just some aspect of the story-telling? I just assume now that when there's a guy/girl introduced right in the beginning and there's some mention of attraction between him/her & MC, it's the romance we'll be reading. But hehehe, it was a great revelation when he turned into a REAL one :).


    Ha--she got the CW class down to a T. Well, if I'm allowed to map my experience with one onto Cath's & Prof. Piper. She might have. And maybe! I think I remember reading somewhere that that was the college she went to too?


    Reagan!!! Wren was very realistic. I feel like I could very well have been Wren if one of my friends from HS came to the same college as me. AND YES ART. The issues fit so well with the rest of the story :).


    Oooh. It's definitely a favorite read - I haven't chosen my top reads yet. I'm curious to know what else makes that list for you though!

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  34. Wow, this is like a homerun for you! I have a hardcover the publisher sent waiting for me to read and I'm actually kinda nervous since everyone seems to love it! But you have listed everything that I love in a book. The great romance, the great protagonist, the world building, the character cast, and while I haven't been to a university (I'm dual enrolled in my state college though), I like that you felt nostalgia because that means she portrayed it so well. Love the review! I shall read it asap!

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  35. READ THE HARDCOVER READ IT READ IT :). Esp. if the publisher sent you a hardcover to read! How awesome - you don't even need to pre-order like I did ;). I hope you end up enjoying it!

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  36. OH I definitely will, I just didn't know WHEN to and how to prioritize it. I will be reading it tonight now actually! I hope so too, thanks :)

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  37. "I have seen a few other reviewers comment on how similar they are to Cath, but they seemed to find that wonderful for the book because it's so accepting of her introversion." That sounds wonderful, actually! Thank you for the response!

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  38. Well, this sounds utterly perfect. I just read Eleanor & Park a few months ago and loved it. So now, I'm trying to read everything by this author. So glad you loved it!

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  39. Ooh, I still haven't tried everything by Rowell just yet. You'll have to let me know how you like Fangirl and her other titles! :)

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  40. I absolutely loved the cover - it fits the book so perfectly. And the book was just so brilliant. You're right about the character development, I never felt like Cath was sacrificing herself to be in a relationship, she was just growing and developing. Perfect.

    Here's my review: two girls, one suitcase

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