Thursday, October 22, 2015

In Which I Fangirl like a Fangirl over FANGIRL and All Things Rainbow Rowell

I had dinner with Rainbow Rowell last week.

Okay, the phrase "had dinner" actually means: "I ate at a long table with 25 people and Rainbow Rowell walked by my end of the table quickly and sat at the other end and ate quickly and I watched her through the hazy lens of my two martinis on an empty stomach and when she was leaving I pretended I was taking a picture of my friend Natalie but I was actually taking a picture of Rainbow Rowell."

The next day I met Rainbow Rowell.

Okay, the phrase "met Rainbow Rowell" actually means: "I stood in a ridiculously long snaking line at the Books by the Banks festival in Cincinnati for 45 minutes and nearly came to blows with the woman in front of me who accused me of trying to get in front of her by saying EXCUSE ME, MA'AM, I WAS STANDING HERE FIRST!! and I was all like, Chillax, lady, no need to freak out, we are all Rainbow Rowell fans here and I'm sure she wouldn't want us to come to blows over line placement, and then I turned around and started talking to the lady behind me because, honestly, the level of freaky fangirling emanating from the woman in front of me was scary, but then it was MY turn at the front of the line, at last, and I said hello to Rainbow Rowell and she said hello to me and I blabbered like an absolute idiot about how my book was on the same Florida Teens Read list as hers and I knew she would win the award (she did) and I was just glad to have my book mentioned in the same breath as hers, and she just nodded and smiled and said, oh that's nice or something lovely like that, and then the security person (she had a security person!!) took my picture with her."

If you can't tell, I love Rainbow Rowell.

My first introduction to her work was the beautiful, heartbreaking novel Eleanor & Park, which is about a romance between two teens-- a half Korean/half American boy named Park who loves comics and 90's music (the book takes place in the 90's) and a poor/overweight/sensitive/red-headed/wrong-side of the tracks girl named Eleanor. 

There's a slow build up of their relationship, a sense that Eleanor and Park are in a lovely bubble, as forces outside of their control-- asshole kids who ride the same bus they do, Eleanor's terrible dysfunctional family life--threaten to tear them apart. Interestingly, they don't even hold hands until at least halfway through the book, and that scene, the drawn out lead up to the touching of their hands, is one of the most romantic scenes I have ever read. 

It's Eleanor's wrenching home-life, though, that is the most moving and memorable to me. Her struggles with her downtrodden mom and many siblings all piled into the same bedroom with each other and her yearning for privacy and dignity under the leering eyes of her stepfather are all painfully captured by Rowell. 

This feels real. Because, I suspect, it is. 

The book has been banned in some schools, for language--the concerned/outraged parents say-- but it's clear those people haven't read the book or if they have, they don't get it. Last year there was a blow up on social media, the story of a school inviting Rainbow Rowell to speak and then dis-inviting her after a parent called the book obscene. 

Someone asked Rainbow Rowell for a comment and she said: "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."

I was forever a fangirl after reading that. 

And then, I read her book Fangirl.

Or rather, I listened to it on audio. My husband, teen daughter, and her boyfriend, and I were driving 17 hours to Florida for Spring Break and I checked out Fangirl because it was written by Rainbow Rowell! and because I knew it was about a girl's first year in college and I thought my daughter might be interested. 

I put the first CD in and my husband was sleeping and my daughter was sleeping, but her boyfriend and I listened as main character Cath moves into her dorm, anxious about being away from home, anxious about not rooming with her twin sister, and only finding a little bit of solace in her writing. (Turns out she is a "famous" writer of fan fiction. She writes popular stories, eagerly followed by her many fans, on a Harry Potter-like series called Simon Snow.)

CD number two, and everyone in the car was awake, and we listened for the next 16 hours as Cath figures out how to navigate college and homesickness and her extreme anxiety and her loud-mouthed seemingly obnoxious roommate and the roommate's adorable boyfriend and her troubled twin sister and her struggling father and her distant mother and all the while interspersed with bits of her more and more popular Simon Snow fan fiction.

When we reached the end of the audio book, everyone in the car was crying and after we all wiped our tears, my daughter spoke up very softly from the backseat and asked if we'd put the first CD back on because she'd missed it.

We did.

I could go on about my love and admiration of all things Rainbow Rowell, about how my book club read Landline, one of her adult novels, and it was one of the few novels that we all agreed was good. About Rowell's latest novel, the one she signed for me, called Carry On, a book of Cath's fanfiction about Simon Snow... (I am marveling at the brilliance of this!!!)

But I won't because I fear that this blog post may never end if I do.

Instead I will leave you with this:



  1. I'm so jealous that I missed her!!! I hope she comes back to Ohio again someday!

    1. She's coming to the OCTELA conference (Ohio Council of Teachers of English) in the spring, I think? I will keep you posted :)

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  3. JEALOUS! RR is amazing, and I'm sure if I ever met her I would be incapable of speech.

    1. I was pretty much a goofball. But she was lovely.