Friday, September 13, 2013

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

"I care about Simon Snow. And I know he's not mine, but that doesn't matter to me. I'd rather pour myself into a world I love and understand than try to make something up out of nothing..."

Going away to college has always been a rite of passage. For many, this counts as their first taste of independence. Cath isn't looking forward to the experience. Her twin sister, Wren, is using the time to explore new things, including requesting a roommate that isn't Cath. Wren spends her weekends drinking and partying, and her week days practicing crazy vegan diets. Cath is afraid of all the changes she has to face without her sister and best friend. She spends the beginning of her year eating protein bars in her bedroom because she's afraid to go to the dining hall, then because she's too embarrassed to ask where the dining hall is.

Thankfully, Cath eventually ventures outside of her dorm. This is largely due to the fact that her roommate Regan, and Regan's boyfriend Levi, take her under their wing. Through them, she finds the dining hall and learns the joys of peppermint mochas. Cath would still rather stay inside and write Simon Snow fanfic than party, but they always extend an invitation when going to a party.

Speaking of Simon Snow, he is the main character in a series of young adult books. Simon goes to a magical school, like Harry Potter. His roommate is a brooding vampire named Baz, and they tend to fight. In the great world of the internet, Simon and Baz are really hot for each other. Cath writes a lot of Simon and Baz slash fics, the most important of which is "Carry On, Simon." It gets tons of hits and even has its own fan gear. Cath is determined to finish her masterpiece before the final Simon Snow book is published.

Despite being a Freshman, Cath negotiated her way into an upper level writing class. She soon starts writing with a boy in her class, alternating paragraphs while he works at the library. Yet, library boy never walks her home to her dorm at midnight. Levi does. That little bit of conflict aside, Cath's teacher adores her writing. When she turns in a fanfic, however, the teacher hates it, even refers to it as plagiarism.

There are a lot of confusing moments going on in Cath's Freshman year. There's the feelings about library boy (Who always seems kind of meh) versus Levi (Who obviously loves her and has the funniest moments in the entire book and is awesome). She has conflicts with her family: the whole Wren issue, her guilt over going away to school and not being able to take care of her father, and then finding out that their mother wants to reconnect with them, the same mother who left when they were eight.

I really love how Cath starts out as an introvert, and basically stays that way in the end. She comes out of her shell a bit, but she doesn't turn into a social butterfly. I like that, how it's okay for her to be who she is. It would be really difficult to dislike Cath. There were moments when she was so incredibly awkward or self destructive, and I just wanted to give her a hug. I could see a whole lot of myself in her. I also loved Regan and Levi for never giving up on her, no matter how many times she turned down their invites. Regan is one of those intimidating girls with the pessimistic attitudes. They are exact opposites, but Cath and Regan created a great balance. And Levi is absolutely the best. I don't know why I'm just discovering Rainbow Rowell (I also read Eleanor & Park, and it is also fantastic), but she is a wonderful writer. I want to read whatever she has coming next, and I only hope that she comes out with it soon.

I received my copy of Fangirl from Netgalley, courtesy of St. Martin's Press. It will be available September 10th, 2013.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Of Beast and Beauty by Stacey Jay

"In the beginning was the darkness, and in the darkness was a girl, and in the girl was a secret. The secret was as old as the cracked cobblestone streets of Yuan, as peculiar as the roses that bloom eternally within the domed city's walls, as poisonous as forgotten history and the stories told in its place..."

The city of Yuan is enclosed by a dome that keeps out the savage monstrous people who roam the deserts. The dome also protects the normal smooth skin people from being mutated by the environment on the outside. Yuan is a successful city, and to ensure that success, a female royal must be sacrificed to the magical roses. These roses ensure plentiful food and water for the citizens. Recently, the city has been on a decline. The roses demand a proper blood sacrifice, and soon.

Outside the dome, the people of the desert are also suffering. Men, women, and children are starving to death. They even poison themselves to make it quick, rather than endure the slow torture of starvation. Gem, the chief's son, is part of a group that breaks into the dome. His village's shaman has seen that they need Yuan's magic roses in order to save the people. Once inside the dome, stuff goes down. Gem runs into Isra (More on her in a minute), who alerts the guards. The others leave, but Gem is held as prisoner in a gesture of good faith to ensure that the villagers won't attack the dome again.

Unfortunately, the King of Yuan was killed in the attack. His death means that his daughter, Isra, is now the Queen. Isra has been locked in a tower since she was four years old. An accident took her sight, so she was hidden from the people. She also suspects that she is deformed, as she is very tall and her skin is rough and a little scaly. Isra must now get married and then she will be sacrificed to the roses, hopefully in several decades. In the meantime, Isra tries to change things in Yuan. She gets Gem to help her plant a garden in order to reverse or prevent the mutations that are springing up among the people. She also wants to let the mutated and smooth skins live together, rather than keeping the former locked away in a ghetto area. Unfortunately, despite being Queen, Isra meets resistance from her father's top advisor. She will also have to marry his son, who ends up being kind of nice, though he is also racist and very promiscuous.

Obviously, as this is a Beauty and the Beast retelling, Isra must end up with Gem. The reversal of the roles is interesting, with the man being the prisoner and the woman the captor. I thought the reversal from mortal enemies to true love was a bit rushed, but it wasn't terrible. I'm not an expert in how Stockholm Syndrome works. I was impressed by the combination of the fairy tale premise with a dystopian setting. It makes for an incredibly original twist on an old story.

I received my copy of Of Beast and Beauty from Edelweiss, courtesy of Delacorte Press. It's available for purchase now.