Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

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I should preface this with; I do not often read contemporary teen romance, so if this is your genre, I highly, highly recommend checking out Fangirl.

I think I have a love hate relationship with Rainbow Rowell’s writing. Overall she comes up with interesting and compelling topics, but her execution is lacking for me. The thing is I didn’t dislike this story, I actually loved many parts and related completely to a lot of the issues Cath was facing, but something about Rowell’s writing was off. It could have been the Carry On inserts or the fact that there isn’t much resolve to big issues. Or it is possibly how Cath carried herself throughout the book, but I cannot put my finger on why this overall concept didn’t fully sit well with me.

Basically, for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words… And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

I didn’t see the the value in the Carry On inserts and honestly I would have skipped them had I not thought they might be important to the story, which in my personal opinion they were not pivotal to the story, they were just fun additions.

We are told about all of these huge plot points, plot points that seem significant and as if they should be resolved, but it is kind of forgotten about and only plays a roll in pushing forward the plot of “Cath, the struggling writer.” To me this was truly the downfall of the book because I really wanted resolve, not for myself, but for the sake of Cath as a character. I felt that she had struggled through so many changes and trying to find her own identity, while dealing with emotional turmoil from her past, as well as her present, yet none of this is dealt with. Had we seen these significant pieces play out Cath would have had major and awesome character growth.

As for characters, well, I’m not sold on our ol’ boy Levi. While I felt he was a decent influence in Cath’s life, I’m just not… convinced? I suppose the only way I can explain it is that Levi has “John Green Syndrome” meaning he seems utterly unrealistic and hard to relate to. Sure, I’m a reader, or a “lover of words” but I do enjoy to laugh and waste time scrolling through Instagram and meme’s. Whereas Levi is seemingly above all of that… he’s just unrealistic and at times problematic, especially in the ways he treats Cath. But for the sake of spoilers I will spare you the details.

But honestly, despite the flaws and my complaints, as someone who doesn’t enjoy YA contemporary to begin with, this would have to be up there with a more enjoyable YA contemporary reads. I had fun, I laughed, and I felt connected to Cath at times due to many of the struggles she faces. But I have mixed feelings about most of the characters and overall plot line. Though I’d be interested to read Carry On since it seems fun and it’s supposed to read like a Harry Potter fan fic!

Overall this was 3/5 stars.

–Stephanie, Teen LTA

Educated by Tara Westover

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This was a very difficult book to read more often than not. As a warning before going into this book you should know there is mental and physical abuse in abundance. There are also many graphic scenes describing accidents.

I was avoiding this book for no good reason, only to pick it up and devour it in a few days. It was captivating and beautifully written. It told a story of resilience and surviving in a life full of abuse and manipulation. It told the story of toxic masculinity and victim blaming. It told the story of what women must face in a world and religions dominated by men and their ideas about how women should act, feel, etc. It told a story of remaking ones self and going against the grain of what it means to be a woman.  But the truth is no matter how far we come, we will always hold the scars of our past and we will constantly be healing and changing.

Tara Westover comes from a religious Mormon family who does not believe in modern medicine, education, or the government. Tara’s father is paranoid and mistrusting of authority figures; he is also possibly dealing with an undiagnosed mental illness. Tara’s mother is manipulative in subtle ways and constantly chooses her husbands word over anyone else’s. Tara’s older brother is abusive. All the while Tara, as the youngest child, is battling her own beliefs and the beliefs of her family. Ultimately, Tara decides to gain an education against the will of her parents, all the while trying survive day to day among the constant abuse and manipulation within her home and religion.

At times, I wanted to scream and throw this book, at other times I wanted to curl up and cry with Tara. I had many visceral reactions to the people and situations described in this book. I have seen the criticisms on the legitimacy of this memoir and I’d like to believe that this book is as accurate as Tara’s memory. As she describes in the footnotes, these scenes and situations being described are how she recalls them, but admits that other family members opinions on these memories differ from hers. As it stands in my mind, Tara told her story the best she could and was as honest as her memory would allow.

Overall, this book captivated me immediately and I recommend if you are able to stomach the abuse and graphic scenes, because Tara’s story is an incredible testament to what it means to rise above the odds and cultivate a life outside of the only life you’ve ever known. 

–Stephanie, Teen LTA