I don’t know why I love books by Rainbow Rowell, I just do.  They are amazingly real.  Eleanor & Park stole my heart, and I was enraged when a group of ridiculous parents tried to ban it from their schools, canceled Rowell’s appearances, and demanded disciplinary action against the librarians that chose the book for a teen summer reading program.  Teens need great books, great books that are real, that touch them, that make them feel understood.  Grown-ups (especially those that are parents of teenagers!) need books that remind them what it feels like to be a teenager – those terribly wonderful tumultuous times.  Rainbow Rowell’s books are those books.  Fangirl is one of those books.

Cath is heading off to college and her twin sister, Wren, has decided that they shouldn’t be roommates.  While Wren is off partying, Cath buries herself in the world of fan fiction online.  Even as the author of a fan fiction for the Simon Snow series (think Harry Potter-ish world) followed ardently by thousands of people all over the world, Cath is awkward and unsure, far more comfortable in her make-believe world.

“No,” Cath said, “seriously. Look at you. You’ve got your shit together, you’re not scared of anything. I’m scared of everything. And I’m crazy. Like maybe you think I’m a little crazy, but I only ever let people see the tip of my crazy iceberg. Underneath this veneer of slightly crazy and mildly socially retarded, I’m a complete disaster.” 

And you don’t need to know anything about fan fiction, or even care about it, to relate to Cath and her insecurities – she’s just so relatable – who hasn’t paused when walking into a new cafeteria for the first time?!

In new situations, all the trickiest rules are the ones nobody bothers to explain to you. (And the ones you can’t Google.) Like, where does the line start? What food can you take? Where are you supposed to stand, then where are you supposed to sit? Where do you go when you’re done, why is everyone watching you?

And all the wonderfully realistic and fascinating characters only add to the story, and to Cath’s life and struggles.  There’s Reagan, the blunt, sarcastically funny, slightly wild roommate who decides she’s going to be Cath’s friend:

“I feel sorry for you, and I’m going to be your friend.”
“I don’t want to be your friend,” Cath said as sternly as she could. “I like that we’re not friends.”
“Me, too. I’m sorry you ruined it by being so pathetic.” 

There’s Levi, the too nice, too relaxed, too wonderfully sweet and accepting guy with his own story and struggles:

“What’s the plan?’ she asked.
He grinned. “My plan is to do things that make you want to hang out with me again tomorrow. What’s your plan?”
“I’m going to try not to make an ass of myself.”
He grinned. “So we’re all set.” 

Others at college add to Cath’s experiences – the tough but supportive professor, the charming self-centered writing partner.  And of course, there’s Cath’s family – the mother who left her as a child, her twin sister who is on her own journey, and her manic-depressive father (I LOVED her father!):

“Honey, I’ve watched a lot of 90210. The parents weren’t even on the show once Brandon and Brenda went to college. This is your time – you’re supposed to going to frat parties and getting back together with Dylan.”
“Why does everybody want me to go to frat parties?”
“Who wants you to go to frat parties? I was just kidding. Don’t hang out with frat guys, Cath, they’re terrible. All they do is get drunk and watch 90210.” 

The thing is, all of this could be hokey – a too sweetly perfect love story, an over-the-top family drama, a traumatic freshman college experience – but it is everything but hokey.  It is real, heart-felt, touching, funny – it is life…

Title:  Fangirl
Author:  Rainbow Rowell
Genre: YA Fiction
Pages: 338
Publication: St. Martin’s Griffin, September 2013


Banned Books Week – Eleanor & Park

So this is Banned Books Week.  It is a week to celebrate our freedom to read.  Our freedom to read whatever we like, with no interference, because we are a free people and free people read freely.  I’m admittedly not a fan of certain genres and your political and religious beliefs may not mirror mine.  But I do believe in your right, the right of every free person, to read anything and everything.  It is the way that we learn, explore new ideas, escape, find solace and understanding, and become inspired.

Unfortunately, not everyone believes in the freedom to read.  Recently the Anoka-Hennepin school district in Minnesota and the public library cancelled contracted appearances by the author Rainbow Rowell.  Her young adult book, Eleanor & Park, was selected for their summer reading program and the author had been invited to the local schools and the public library.  Cancelling her appearances wasn’t enough.  Now a group of parents has engaged the Parents Action League and are pushing for the removal of the book from the library and disciplinary action for the librarians that chose the book.  Their complaints are centered on profanity and “crude and sexually charged material”.

OK, I read Eleanor & Park.  I loved Eleanor & Park.  There is profanity, but it comes out of the mouths of the “bad guys”, the bullies and Eleanor’s abusive stepfather.  Does any parent of a teenager really believe that their child has not heard, and probably occasionally used, profanity? Is it really all that shocking to these teenagers?  And while Eleanor and Park have all the sweetness of first teenage love, and the author can describe intimately what it feels like to hold someone’s hand, they never get past second base and actually make a conscious decision to NOT have sex!  If your teenagers don’t know what sex is, or you haven’t talked to them about making responsible choices regarding sex, maybe now would be the time…

While I am a librarian and an advocate for the freedom to read, I also have a 12-year old daughter and a 17-year old son.  Above all other things that I am, I am a mom.  And I would let either of my children read this book.  There is NOTHING in this book that would shock my son in the least.  My daughter is younger, but mature, and I would happily share this story with her.  Why?  Because the issues in this book are important.  It heartbreaking story about not belonging, being uncomfortable in your own skin, about bullying and abusive situations at home.  It is also a beautiful story about first love and honesty and friendship, about finding your place and loving and accepting who you are.  This is a story about being a teenager, and being a teenager is hard.  The issues that they face, that my kids face along with thousands of others, are painful and difficult and raw.  But they are REAL.  Books like Eleanor & Park give parents a chance to share these stories and issues with their teenagers, to open up a real and meaningful dialog.

As Rainbow Rowell said in an interview with The Toast’s Mallory Ortberg:

Eleanor & Park isn’t some dystopian fantasy about a world where teenagers swear and are cruel to each other, and some kids have terrible parents.

Teenagers swear and are cruel to each other. Some kids have terrible parents.

Some girls have terrible stepdads who shout profanity at them and call them sluts – and some of those girls still manage to rise above it.

When these people call Eleanor & Park an obscene story, I feel like they’re saying that rising above your situation isn’t possible.

That if you grow up in an ugly situation, your story isn’t even fit for good people’s ears.  That ugly things cancel out everything beautiful.

While I loved the book, and regularly recommend it to others (please don’t discipline me!), I respect a parent’s right to not want their child to read it.  As much as we all have the freedom to read, we equally have the freedom to not read.  My issue is with the parents that suddenly feel it is their duty to provide a moral compass to an entire county school and library system.  Let these children, along with their parents, decide for themselves.  Keep your kid home if you don’t want them to meet the dangerous Rainbow Rowell.  It is not my job as a librarian to censor what your children read – that is your job as a parent.  If you don’t like it, take it away from your kids and tell them why, realizing that your disapproval will only make them more eager to read it.  Oh – and wait – they’re actually reading!  That might be a good thing…