Rainbow Rowell is an amazing author and I really enjoyed her two previous books: Attachments is a delight and Eleanor & Park is amazing and also amazingly tense, because dear god, those kids!
Given my own love of fandom, I was particularly delighted to see her publish a book about fanfic writers, or at least a fanfic writer. And I did enjoy this book. The characters are delightful and the plot was interesting.
That said, there was just something off about the book and it took me a while to pin down exactly what. The main tension of the story is whether or not Cath (the main character) can deal with the real world or will focus herself exclusively on fandom. This is a real crisis for many college students. However, I found two main problems with the implementation of this plot, one with the timing of the plot arc and the other with the writing style interacting poorly with the tension of the story.
The writing style is almost fairy-tale like, with a focus on significant events and turning points without getting into much of the day-to-day activities of the characters. This is a writing style I often enjoy, but when the plot tension is about whether or not the main character is doing her regular day-to-day activities, then it becomes pretty important for those activities to be explicitly addressed. There’s a real question of whether or not Cath is attending her classes, and she says she is, but we only ever see her in one of her classes. In addition, there’s a major plot point about one thing that Cath doesn’t do. But since so much of what she does do isn’t described, there’s no way to tell when she doesn’t do something. That plot point comes out of nowhere when it’s finally revealed.
The timing is also problematic. Like most stories, this one is structured with the climax at the end of the book and the end of the time period being described. It certainly makes sense to structure a story like that. But the kind of crisis that Cath is dealing with isn’t one that waits until the end of the year. When I went to college, there were members of my cohort who struggled with online and fandom obsessions. I was only introduced to fandom in college, and started being active in it in my later years, after I had gotten the hang of college itself. From what I saw, though, with others, was that the crisis came early on. They made a choice in their first month of the semester, if they could balance fandom and real world or not. If they couldn’t balance the two, and if they picked fandom, then they flunked out fast. The crisis point doesn’t wait until the end of the year. At most, it might wait until the end of the first semester.
So, the end of the book focuses on this crisis of priorities, but I had actually judged the crisis point to have long passed, and I had to play catch-up a bit when the story referenced a turning point that I didn’t even notice. It was a fun book about wonderful characters, but the timing and the tension of it weren’t very well done. I still enjoyed it, but it’s definitely no Eleanor & Park.