I LOVE the fact that Fifty Shades of Grey actually started as weird Twilight fanfic. All of that light BDSM between Christian Grey and Anastasia began in an episodic masterpiece entitled Master of the Universe, starring Twilight characters Edward and Bella, which E.L. James penned using the fanfic pseudonym “Snowqueen’s Icedragon.” It’s just so perfect! I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

There is a whole world of fan fiction available for free with the click of your mouse (a whole bunch of which can be found here). The idea is this: people “borrow” preexisting characters (like Edward and Bella from Twilight or Scooby Doo or Veronica Mars or whomever) and write new stories about them. Sometimes, these fanfic stories elaborate upon things that happened in the “real” books/TV shows/movies. And, other times, they reinvent the lives and motivations of the characters.

I can honestly say that I have never read a piece of fan fiction in my life (aside from my half-hearted and failed attempt to read Fifty Shades of Grey). Fifty Shades of Grey is, undoubtedly, the best known, most profitable piece of fanfic ever written. And it is horrendous and unreadable.

So why on earth did I think it would be a good idea to read a book about a chick who writes fanfic? I blame Mom Brain (it’s a good crutch these days).

Rainbow Rowell
Published September 10, 2013
448 pages (Kindle e-book)

What it’s about: The titular fangirl, Cather, is a HUGE fan of Simon Snow, a thinly veiled Harry Potter knock-off, and spends all of her free time writing popular romantic gay fanfic about him using the pen name “Magicath.” Now that she’s heading off for college, she figures that life as she knows it will continue (the good parts, anyway). She and her twin sister, Wren (Get it? Cather, Wren: “Our mom didn’t know she was having twins [. . .] [a]nd she didn’t feel like coming up with another name.”), will share a room and hang out, she’ll continue to write fanfic (which Wren will edit for her), and she’ll take some writing classes on the side.

But that’s not how things pan out. Wren has unilaterally decided that they will not be roommates. Instead, Wren will be partying with her new roomie/BFF, flirting with dudes in bars, getting extremely wasted, and pretending she doesn’t have a sister. Cather, meanwhile, will stay holed up in her room, acting generally awkward and antisocial. She will be manipulated by a dude who uses her for her writing skillz (she thought they were having sweet library dates because he liked her, liked her!). She will then get romantically entangled with the wrong guy (or is he, in fact, the just-right guy??). And she will frantically try to bring her serial fanfic masterpiece, Carry On, to a close before the final Simon Snow book is released.

Rating: 1.5/5

I thought this might be a fun, mindless, quick read. It’s by Rainbow Rowell, who wrote Eleanor & Park, which I enjoyed. But why did I ignore the fact that it’s basically all about a young E.L. James? I made a mistake (a 450-page mistake). And I’m not proud of it.

This book is a mess. Each chapter ends with an excerpt from one of the Simon Snow (aka fake Harry Potter) books and/or one of Cather’s fanfic pieces (the basic premise of which is this: Draco Malfoy is actually a vampire, and he and Harry Potter fall in love and get it on). It’s a weird, gimmicky inclusion in the book (one that may have been specifically included as a set-up for this spin-off book that was recently released). Each excerpt is only a couple pages long, so there’s not enough there to get deeply invested in the book within the book (you don’t get to know the characters well enough and there’s not enough plot to care about what’s going on). And, on top of that, it doesn’t really add much of anything to the main storyline. The excerpts just serve as sloppy transitions between chapters.

The book itself is rife with clichés. Wren goes off to college and parties too hard, ending up in the hospital with alcohol poisoning. Cather is a socially-awkward teen who would rather write fanfic than interact with her peers. Cather gets mistreated by one guy (who didn’t deserve her anyway!), but learns her lesson and finds a guy who treats her waaaaaaay better. Dad is a bit manic, so the girls have to worry about him. Mom left them when they were kids, so Cather and Wren have no one but each other to rely on (and, clearly, they have some trust/abandonment issues). After a few months apart, the twins realize how much they truly need each other in their lives! Ugh. We get it.

Suffice it to say, Rainbow Rowell is really hit or miss. Eleanor & Park? Solid hit. Landline? Big miss. This one, sadly, falls squarely with the misses. You’d be better off reading real Harry Potter fanfic than this mess of a book.

Coming soon:

  • Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf (an Amazon Best Book of the Month for June 2015). This book was recommended by my aunt, who warned that it is “probably a book for old folks.”
  •  The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty (an Amazon Best Book of the Month for August 2013). This one had been sitting idly on my Kindle for approximately two and a half years. Let’s just say that, so far, I’m not kicking myself for failing to read it sooner.

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