With an unflinching voice, Cath navigates the lonely road of her freshman year at college, untethered from her gregarious twin sister’s orbit and unsure whether her wild popularity as an author of fan fiction makes her more—or less—of a “real” writer.
The novel’s brilliance comes from Rowell’s reimagining of a coming-of-age story’s stock characters (the reclusive writer, the tough-talking friend, the sweet potential boyfriend) as dynamic and temperamental individuals—which adroitly parallels Cath’s own fan-fiction writing process. Rowell challenges readers to love characters who are loyal, vulnerable and funny—but also realistically flawed. Cath’s gruff exterior protects her easily wounded and quite self-conscious heart, but her anger is sometimes unreasonable. Roommate Reagan is a fiercely loyal friend but an unfaithful girlfriend; Cath’s crush, Levi, has a receding hairline rather than the artificial movie-star perfection bestowed upon the brows of so many romantic heroes. The nuanced characters help the novel avoid didacticism as it explores the creative process and the concept of creative “ownership.” Though Cath’s Harry Potter–esque fan fiction (excerpts of which are deftly woven into the novel) has a devoted following of more than 35,000 readers, a professor deems the stories plagiarism and stealing because, “These characters, this whole world belongs to someone else.” Cath’s struggles to assess this conclusion’s validity give readers much to consider.
Absolutely captivating. (Fiction 14 & up)