Bookanista Rec :: FANGIRL

Today’s Bookanista recommendation is…
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

From Goodreads – From the author the New York Times bestseller Eleanor & Park, a coming-of-age tale of fan fiction, family and first love. Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan . . . But 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. For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

It’s sort of hard for me to put my affection for this novel into words. It is the quintessential Katy Book (romance and reading and writing!) and I adore everything about it. Seriously — everything, which doesn’t happen frequently. Like, even when I really, really love a book, there are often still instances when I’m reading along and am pulled out of the narrative to think huh, I would have done that scene a bit differently. But that did not happen while I was reading Fangirl. Not once. I can’t name one flaw, not one tiny thing I’d change about this story. In my mind, it was perfection; it was an absolute joy to visit Cath’s world.

Rainbow Rowell is a master of dialogue. She’s brilliant at crafting quirky, charming, blemished-in-the-best way characters. She’s a genius when it comes to taking commonplace situations (feeling unmoored during freshman year of college? who hasn’t been there?) and spinning them into something vibrant and unique and utterly compelling. And she writes the tingly feelings of first love like no other contemporary author I’ve read. She makes hand-holding hot. In Fangirl, she makes reading aloud hot.

I can’t say much more about Fangirl, because it’s a novel that must be experienced, delighted in, and savored. You have to meet Cath and Levi and Wren and Reagan for yourself. You have to delve into their complex relationships, and dive head first into the fandom of Simon Snow. Fangirl is one of those rare books I wanted to crack open and reread immediately after finishing. A 2013 favorite for sure!

How awesome is this? The other day I found The Outsiders and Fangirl shelved side-by-side. If you’ve read Fangirl, you know that this placement has to be some sort of bookstore serendipity.

*A few links of note: Rainbow Rowell speaks to The Toast about continued attempts to ban her YA debut Eleanor & Park (an incredible book), YA Highway interviews Rainbow Rowell about Fangirl, and Bookanista Jessica Love gives her take on Fangirl and Cath’s super-relatable introvert tendencies.*

(Amazing art by Simini Blocker)

Don’t forget to check out what my fellow Bookanistas are up to:

Christine Fonseca keeps guessing with BREAKING GLASS by Lisa Amowitz

Jessica Love connects with THIS SONG WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE by Leila Sales


On Dialogue and Characterization…

Over the weekend I read a fantastic adult novel by Rainbow Rowell called Attachments. If you’ve read her YA debut Eleanor & Park (and really, if you haven’t, please hurry to your local bookstore and pick it up — it’s amazing), then you’re probably already aware of what an amazing writer Rainbow Rowell is, and you also probably know that she creates lovably flawed characters who engage in awesome, witty, REAL conversations. This, I think, is a gift.

Attachments is a novel with an interesting and unique format. Here’s the Goodreads summary, just so you have an idea of what’s going on…

Beth and Jennifer know their company monitors their office e-mail. But the women still spend all day sending each other messages, gossiping about their coworkers at the newspaper and baring their personal lives like an open book. Jennifer tells Beth everything she can’t seem to tell her husband about her anxieties over starting a family. And Beth tells Jennifer everything, period. When Lincoln applied to be an Internet security officer, he hardly imagined he’d be sifting through other people’s inboxes like some sort of electronic Peeping Tom. Lincoln is supposed to turn people in for misusing company e-mail, but he can’t quite bring himself to crack down on Beth and Jennifer. He can’t help but be entertained -and captivated- by their stories. But by the time Lincoln realizes he’s falling for Beth, it’s way too late for him to ever introduce himself. What would he say to her? “Hi, I’m the guy who reads your e-mail, and also, I love you.” After a series of close encounters and missed connections, Lincoln decides it’s time to muster the courage to follow his heart… even if he can’t see exactly where it’s leading him.

One of the things that struck me about Attachments was the bond between Jennifer and Beth. Their relationship unfolds in a series of email conversations (read by Lincoln) and that’s all we get from them. We never see them chatting in a coffee shop, or talking in a nail salon, or gossiping in the break room at the newspaper. Their interactions are all email, and they look something like this:


That is to say, there are no inner monologues, no dialogue tags, no descriptive beats, no awkward pauses or long sighs or knowing chuckles — none of the stuff that clogs up conversations in traditionally-written novels. All we know of Jennifer and Beth are the words they type to one another and yet, we get to know them really well. I was sort of blown away when I realized this.

See, I consider dialogue to be one of my writerly strengths. I think I have an eye (ear?) for flow and organic word choice. I think conversations between my characters read like real conversations between real people, and I think it’s fairly easy to get to know them based on how they talk and interact. That said, I definitely incorporate tags and supportive narrative and the occasional adverb (*gasp*) into dialogue I write. These devices are important and I will always use them, but I wondered what it would be like to write conversations like those of Jennifer and Beth. Words, clean and simple.

As an experiment, I tried it with a scene in my WiP. Words, alternating between two characters. Though it was challenging at first, I did not let myself write he said, or she sighed, or he squeezed her hand. There were no inner monologues. There was no supportive narrative. Just words, back and forth — statement, response, question, response, statement, response, etc.

And you know… It was kind of fun. And quick! The conversation flowed more easily than usual. The characters were clever and their banter felt spontaneous and sincere and natural. I didn’t have to try so hard. Best of all, I could truly see who the characters were in the words they spoke.

Of course, I’m not writing a story about inner-office friendships, and my story doesn’t include email at all, so I did eventually go back and insert the traditional dialogue tags and beats and descriptions, all the nuanced stuff that normally has me biting my nails and running for the jelly beans when I’m trying to draft a conversation. Imagine my surprise when, again, this part of the process came more easily. Since I already had the entire discussion laid out, the pieces that needed to be augmented with additional narrative were clear. All I had to do was tuck those bits in, and I ended up with a pretty engaging conversation.

So… I’m thinking I may have a new method for writing dialogue. Huh.

Tell me… Do you have any tips for drafting dialogue?