First of all - OMG the great Noelle Stevenson (aka gingerhaze) drew this cover! I was fangirling before I even started reading the actual book! If you're not familiar with her work check out her Broship of the Ring stuff, it's pretty funny.
Okay, this is one of those books that caters to a very specific segment of the population - not a small one!, but still one with its own rules and history (yes, actual history, oh the things one could write about big name authors of today who were once fanfic writers - all the drama!). So, to be clear, you're either a part of fandom or you're not. It's not just being a fan - it's being an active fan and contributing to it, and it's not generational (the trouble that those poor fanboys/fangirls in the 60's had to go through to share their homoerotic fanart of Kirk and Spock! Let us have a moment of silence for their tireless dedication), it's just a _thing_ you're either into or you're not. It doesn't make you any better or any worse than anyone else, it's a hobby, like knitting, or having a life.
I've always been part of fandom - fandomS, actually, so many! And so many more to come, I'm sure! So I could identify a lot with what was going on in this book. I've read reviews where the main character is considered creepy and unhealthy - maybe she is, but she represents a pretty big chunk of the world's population. So, what I'm saying is: this book is not for everyone.
So, Cather (yes, that's her name - more on that later) is a BNF (big name fan) - she writes the most popular Simon Snow fanfic: tens of thousands of fans obsessively check for updates of her slash fanfic. And Cath is pretty happy with that, she likes that her life, her friends, are on the internet. She matters, she makes thousands of people happy or sad with each chapter she posts.
But now Cath and her twin sister Wren are going away to college, and Wren doesn't even want to be roommates with Cath, she thinks they should have their own separate lives.
Cath doesn't know how to cope, she's not good with this real life stuff. I think there will be a tendency to dismiss Cath's issues, but she seems to genuinely suffer from social anxiety and that is no joke. Add to that the fact that they're leaving their bipolar dad all by his lonesome, and he tends to do poorly without them, and Cath is a nervous wreck.
Reagan, her roommate is barely in their room, so at least she has that, but her rommate's boyfriend, Levi, is ALWAYS there! And what's his deal?! Why is he always so nice? Why does he smile so much? Why does he try to be friends with everyone? Isn't that exhausting?
All this, plus classes which turn out to be disappointing have Cath wanting to retreat from this so-called real life into her safe secluded fantasy world, where she makes the rules and everything makes sense.
Personally, though I identify with Cath, for me the best thing about this book wasn't all the fandom stuff, nor the cool references to fan culture, or even the romance. It was Cath's family that did it for me.
There's the dad, who has mental health issues, but he really tries so hard and he does the best he can and he really, really loves his girls and the reader can't help loving him and worrying about him, as well.
Cath's mother left on September 11 (yes, that September 11), when both Cath and her sister Wren were 8 years old. Cath and Wren, get it? Catherine? It's not cute. Their mother didn't want a baby, let alone two, so when she found out she was having twins she couldn't even be bothered with coming up with another name: she just split the one she had in mind in two.
And now Cath's mother wants another chance. Now that they learned to go on without her, now that they don't need her anymore - now she wants to try and be a mum - only not really, because she prefers to be called Laura, and not be there if she is actually needed. And Cath, with all the moving away to college + classes + roommate + new friends + estranged twin + cute boys! + the fandom demanding their next chapter, is understandably not up for that kind of drama. Trouble is, Wren is up to getting back with their mum.
The whole family dynamics was so, so strongly written, seriously powerful stuff - I cried, okay, this pic may as well be about me:
Only I don't like to use the C-word, it's just that my eyes get really sweaty, or I have to water my chin - I do not actually leak weakness water from my face holes.
But as I was saying, the whole family thing? Even if you're not part of any fandom, even if you don't even know what fandom is, the way Rowel wrote Cath's family is worth reading the book.
Also, Levi! Hurray for non-creepy, non-abusive, polite, genuinely nice love interests! They're so rare (despite Peeta's success!) - you may as well go ahead and read it just for the treat of not going through a book muttering, "Girl, you need to call the cops, I'm serious, girl. I mean, he'll probably still kill you and wear your skin as a coat, but at least the police will have a solid lead."
So go read it, fangirls, fanboys and... normal people, I guess.
Rainbow Rowell's official site
@ The Book Depository (with free worldwide delivery!)