*This review will contain spoilers!*
This is the first novel by Rainbow Rowell that I’ve ever read, but I didn’t really have high expectations. I don’t read or write fan-fiction, so I thought the entire topic was going to go way over my head. I wasn’t expecting to fall in love with this book or these characters as much as I did.
The book follows Cather Avery, one half of a set of twins who are both in the process of transferring to university. Cather, more commonly known as Cath, is filled with anxiety and trepidation at the prospect of moving into a strange place with a strange roommate, as her twin, Wren, has decided to move in with a different roommate in an attempt to get more independence. Cath’s roommate, Reagan, is intimidating and Cath automatically assumes she hates her, while her roommates friend, Levi, is kind to Cath and makes a supreme effort to bring her out of her shell, constantly inviting her along to his house parties in an attempt to make her more sociable.
I don’t know why I loved this book, but I absolutely did. At the start of this year, I decided that I wasn’t interested in going to university, because I didn’t think it was for me, but this novel has actually made me start to want to change my mind. Despite the fact that Cath tries not to make friends, she manages to accumulate a little group, which I find absolutely inspiring; it just goes to show that you don’t need to be the most outgoing or charismatic person to find people who like you. The lectures that are described in the book sound really interesting, and, despite what you might expect, the descriptions of different assignments that Cath needs to complete makes them sound extremely interesting, bordering on fun. Writing a fiction piece from the perspective of an unreliable narrator? I love the sound of that! That sounds beyond fun.
I think one of the main reasons I appreciate this novel is because of its portrayal of things that often worry young people. Cath’s sister, Wren, going off on her own adventure and giving herself alcohol poisoning is something that I can imagine people with siblings experiencing quite often; seeing their sibling grow up too fast and make too many mistakes, but feeling unable to help them in case it estranges them. I found myself absolutely hating Wren at the start of the novel, but by the end she’d stolen my heart as much as Cath had; she really develops and grows into her own character instead of just blending in with all of the other drunken freshmen.
Similarly, the relationship between Cath and her writing partner, Nick, when he steals their mutually written piece and decides to give himself full credit. Oftentimes students can feel as though they contribute more to a piece than other members of their team, and I think this is a good demonstration of the fact that you might feel as though you’ve contributed more but you need to respect what everyone has brought to the table, because otherwise it could cause you problems in the future.
One of the things I appreciated about this development was how it linked to Cath’s English professors lecture about plagiarism in fan-fiction. I don’t write fan-fiction, but I can appreciate the fact that it is a genuine form of literature; some of the fan-fiction I’ve heard about seems to be much more skilfully written than the stimulus material, so it is something that requires a passion for writing. However, while fan-fiction doesn’t equate to stealing, I think that Nick’s actions definitely do, so I’m glad that we get the reveal that he lost his assistantship, because it would have been wrong for the professor to punish Cath for writing something genuinely individual and not punish someone who had brushed off her contribution.
Furthermore, I love the relationship between Levi and Cath, and their respective worries about the relationship. When Levi kisses someone else at a party and then equates it down to the fact that he “was back to thinking [she] didn’t like [him]”, I forgave him and found him absolutely adorable; he only hurt her because he was afraid of her hurting him, and I think it’s refreshing to see a male in young adult literature who seems to be more invested in the burgeoning relationship than the female. His reassurances to her that he wouldn’t pressure her and his early declaration of love made me feel so many emotions towards him, because he obviously cared for her so much. That was another reason I appreciated Rainbow Rowell’s writing so completely; instead of throwing it in our faces from the beginning that Levi and Cath were going to fall in love and get together, it was obviously going to happen but when they eventually have their first kiss it’s in a really unexpected segment and it makes us feel as confused and wary as Cath does.
The only problem I had with this book was that it felt too open-ended. There was one scene with Laura, the twins estranged mother, and it felt very up in the air when she left and I was expecting us to get more resolution with Cath and Laura’s relationship later on in the novel. In the same vein, we encounter Nick towards the end of the novel when he begs Cath to accept a co-author credit so that he can get their short story published in the university journal, but after she says no he just gives up the fight which seems very at odds with his character throughout the novel, when he seems more like he would fight for the things that mattered to him. At the end of the book there was a little Q and A with Rainbow Rowell, and she said she’s “not quite done with these characters” so all of my fingers and toes are crossed for a sequel. There’s plenty that could be covered: getting to see more of Jandro and Wren’s relationship, getting to see more of Levi and Cath’s relationship, getting to see if Reagan eventually settles down, finding out more about the twins mum and their fathers life without them… Ugh, I just care about these characters so much that I wish this book was double the length. If there ever is a sequel I will be the happiest person in the world, because I just did not want this book to end! It’s nearly 500 pages long and I managed to read it in just over three days, which is the fastest I’ve read a book of this length for an extremely long time and that in itself shows exactly how addictive this novel is. I love this book, I love Rainbow Rowell, and I can’t wait to read any of her other novels.