first time

Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fangirl is a book that needs no introduction, but have one anyway.

The ‘fangirl’ in question is a girl called Cath, who moves away to university with her identical twin sister Wren, leaving her dad at home (their mum walked out on them when they were 8). Cath writes fan fiction for her favourite book series, Simon Snow (think Harry Potter) as she waits for the eighth and final book to be released, but Wren has grown up, perhaps a little too fast. Cath’s social anxiety plays up as she’s forced into new scenarios, new experiences and even forced to write original characters (shock horror!).

Although the book is about growing up and moving away to university, it is firmly Young Adult. I personally love stories about starting university – it’s interesting to see characters forced to adapt and change during a story, and it’s a plot that’s rarely used (despite the fact that it’s fundamentally interesting).

This novel is definitely character driven – I found the characters to be well defined and fleshed out (the pictures at the front of the book may have helped), although the plot is a little hit-and-miss – I wasn’t too sure what was going to happen at the end, and the ending felt a little rushed and not quite wrapped up – this also happened in the other Rowell novel I’ve read, Eleanor & Park. Although this leaves you thinking more about the characters, there’s not too much tying up of loose ends, no big finale (unlike the Simon Snow novels!).

On the character front, we do see some diversity (which makes the characters interesting!) – Art is a single-parent father, Cath and Reagan are both described as plus-size, and Jandro and Abel are both Mexican, for example. The characters are flawed as well, with the love interests being realistic and not hot rod sex gods – which makes them all the more relatable. A real highlight of Rowell’s novels is the interesting characters and their development, and they do stand out against the white-washed Mary-Sue adventures that often clutter the YA bookshelves.

On the point that the plot wasn’t developed enough, especially for a book of 460 pages, I’d like to add my suggestions. I would have liked to have seen more conflict between the twins and their mother, as well as between the twins themselves – they don’t talk for three months but this is mentioned as an afterthought, and there’s no seething and anger from Cath during this time or any real indication Wren is gone. I also didn’t cotton onto the blossoming relationship between Cath and Levi until it was spelled out to me in sky writing – so I would have liked to have seen more scenes between them earlier in the novel. Nick also completely disappears, and he could have been a really interesting character, but instead his plot his resolved suddenly just before the end.

I quite liked how the excerpts of fan fiction broke up the novel – but honestly, I wasn’t invested in the characters, and so there’s way way too many excerpts written in. Especially as some chapters are Cath reading her fan fiction to Levi, without any real addition to the plot. Carry On, Cath’s fan fiction novel is being released this October, but I’m not particularly interested in reading it – the characters are a slightly-too-obvious rehash of Harry Potter.

I would recommend Fangirl if you’re looking to read something original, entertaining and popular. If the plot had been expanded and consolidated more, this would be a definite five stars, but it just doesn’t quite live up to the hype.

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Annalise x

Review: Forever by Judy Blume

Forever
Forever by Judy Blume

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Forever is a story about a teenager’s first love and first time (having sex). Katherine and Michael are two older teenagers who meet, hit it off, and start dating. He wants to have sex with her, she’s not entirely sure if she wants to, but then she agrees and they do it. There are no horrific consequences – she doesn’t get pregnant, she doesn’t catch an STD, and she doesn’t die – and this is what sets it apart from other books depicting this kind of story (at least at the time it was published).

The story is a fairly realistic depiction of teenage romance – actual teenage romance without a paranormal element and rainbows and fireworks if and when the main characters have sex. There are scenes where both main characters acquire contraception – something a lot of YA writers leave out, because it ruins the romance of it all. This is where the book really excels – and why it is still a bestseller today – it’s realistic. There’s premature ejaculation and awkwardness and the whole ‘making-a-big-deal-of-it-all’ aspect of high school. Katherine and Michael are not soulmates (although they believe it at the time) and their relationship doesn’t even last the summer. Sure, there are people who marry their first boyfriend and live happily ever after, but it just isn’t the norm in real life (although it seems to be in YA). Michael’s had sex before, and I’d love to see more of this in fiction – real, experienced characters, especially girls. Every YA heroine seems to be an innocent virgin, and every villain is a sexually promiscuous bad girl – and it only reinforces slut-shaming and the idea that once you’ve had sex your personality miraculously changes.

The whole story is pretty progressive. Kath’s parents would rather have her having sex at home that god-knows-where, and her grandmother sends her pamphlets on all-sorts of relevant information – abortion and contraception. There’s a character questioning his sexuality and experimenting. There’s an attempted suicide, due to said questioning. It’s only disappointing that, forty years after this book was first published, so much of the story is relevant today. Teenagers are still having sex (shock horror), but there’s still controversy around non-heterosexual characters, abortion, and even just sex in general in YA fiction. In Kath’s world, there is no shame over having sex, using contraception, having an abortion – they’re seen as sensible, responsible choices. Unfortunately we don’t live in that world just yet.

Forever is known for being teenage girls’ first read of realistic sex. The topics involved (and the age of the main characters) suggest this book is for older girls, but the writing style is simplistic, and I almost felt a little too old to be reading it. The whole plot seems a little undercooked – at only 200 pages long, I would have happily read a book with a bit more padding. Some really interesting sub-plots are touched on briefly – Sybil’s hidden pregnancy, Jamie’s first experiences of love, and Artie’s possible homosexuality – which really would have brought the book into its own had they been expanded on. I think the tone and style of the book is really a remnant of the era in which it was first published – it reminds me a lot of the books I read published in the 1980s and 1990s, like Animal Ark and The Babysitters Club, rather than the high-octane paranormal fantasy romances that dominate YA today.

Ultimately, this is a book written to teach girls about safe, realistic sex. It more than achieves in that aim – and it’s a testament that girls are still reading it today. If it was a little longer, maybe those who don’t normally read, wouldn’t bother to read it.

I would kind of love to see a new Forever on the market though – a cult bestseller written today that portrays sex and being a teenager realistically. I’d also like to see a book that touches on the same theme but is aimed at boys – Forever is told through a girl’s perspective (as many YA novels are), and I’d be interested to read something from the other side for once!

(Also, my 2015 copy has a lovely design (a simple cherry) which isn’t as cheesy as some of the others and has red gilded edges)

Did you enjoy Forever? Do you have any recommendations? Tweet me at @annalisebooks or comment below 🙂

Annalise x

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