FAN ART: A Book Review

Why are queer love stories just SO MUCH BETTER?

17924987

Generally, I don’t like romance books.I don’t mind books that have love stories;  I’d just rather skip over novels that place love as the central focus because I find they get cliche and too… gooey fast. But sometimes, we all need a nice, fluffy love story. That’s why I picked up Fan Art by Sarah Tregay. If I’m going to read a love story, I want something different, and Fan Art definitely is, even if it does employ many tropes.

Fan Art is about a high school senior named Jamie who is only out to his family, and who soon realizes that he’s in love with his best friend, Mason. Jamie is scared to come out to him because he’s terrified that Mason won’t accept him. The fact that this is a “love story” should immediately clue you in that Mason isn’t the, uh, unaccepting type.

Fan Art is cute. It feels like a nice warm hug, and it is definitely a story born of a thousand fanfiction dreams. It’s not heavy on morals or lessons, and it doesn’t dwell on philosophy. It’s just a light, cozy story, and one that you should read before bed to give you the sweetest dreams.

Like Every Last Word, which I reviewed a few days ago, this novel has a lot of poetry in it (although both the poems and the prose aren’t very poetic). What I loved wasn’t the poetry, but rather the graphic novel insert. This little comic is important to the plot (hope I’m not revealing too much if I tell you that it’s the “fan art” the title refers to…. or at least one of them), and I love that the reader gets to see and experience the art along with Jamie. In fact, I was kind of disappointed that there wasn’t more art, but I understand why (not all of the art mentioned is as PG as this). I wonder if this is the future of YA literature: multi-media fiction. It’s definitely something to keep an eye on.

Fan Art is a book you’ll want to read if you want something to hug you tight and fill you with happy thoughts. It’s not an unrealistic fairy tale, but it is rather sweet, and I love the novel for it. Sure, it’s full of cliches, particularly cliches regarding coming-out fiction, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it. In fact, the cliches are what keep you knowing that no matter what, this novel is heading towards a happy ending. It’s not overly complicated or thought out, but not all novels have to be. I recommend Fan Art if you need a light read that will bring a smile to your face and maybe a little warmth into your heart.

Plus, it mentions my main boo Darren Criss several times, so it’s worth the read just for that.

3 fan art drawings out of 5.

(Side note, I’m very interested in this trend (? can I call it that?) in YA lit that attempts to deal with fandom. Let me just say that this novel can get a bit stereotypical at times in terms of its portrayal of the “fangirl,” and that Fangirl has a much better understanding on fandom and fangirls, but Fan Art is a valiant attempt. Just try to be a little less creepy next time.)

Advertisements

Every Last Word: A Review

Sometimes, I feel like Sam. And that’s important.

23341894

Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone is an important novel because it is a honest portrayal of a girl, Sam, who is diagnosed with OCD, with focus on “obsessive” rather than “compulsive.” The novel dives deep into Sam’s battle with OCD without ever feeling heavy and hopeless. It’s not about dying because of mental illness; rather, it’s about living a full life and finding those beautiful friendships that will support you through it all.

The plot is a basic boy-meets-girl, but that’s okay, since the novel is a character piece rather than a plot driven narrative. It’s about Sam dealing with her obsessions and learning how to talk to people honestly, and how sometimes one step back can lead to two steps forward.

Sam’s OCD changes throughout the novel, and it’s up to the reader to decide if it changes for better or for worse. I really appreciate how the novel isn’t black and white, and how it really lets you see that mental illness is an ever-changing spectrum: it’s not as simple as something that you have or you don’t, and it’s not something that disappears over night. Every Last Word is, above all else, honest.

I wish that we had got to explore some of the secondary characters, because they all seem lovely and interesting, and we only just get a taste of most of their backstories. I feel like knowing their battles with mental illness, or with coming out, or with whatever it is their dealing with would have really heightened the novel, but I understand the author’s choice to just focus on Sam. In fact, most of the things I didn’t like about the novel, I understand, so I respect. I didn’t particularly enjoy what we come to learn about Caroline, but I understand why the author did that, and I understand why [vague spoiler spoiler spoiler] she seemed to perfectly fit into both sides of Sam’s life– the Eights and the Poets. Maybe I feel like it was too convenient and too perfect, but I get it, so I can’t complain. (…too much. I can complain a little bit.)

I feel like Every Last Word is an important novel to read, for anyone who ever experiences mental illness. It’s nice to relate to Sam, and it’s nice to feel like you’re not the only one– because you aren’t. While the prose and poetry aren’t the greatest, Sam is. Sam is a fantastic character and I really love how even when she breaks, she stays strong. I can already tell that Sam’s story is going to stay in my memory for a long, long time.

3 (and a half) swim lanes out of 5.

Extraordinary Means: A Review

Sometimes, I really want to like books more than I do.

23149128

Are you ever disappointed with a book not because it’s bad, per se, but because it’s not what you thought it was? That’s how I feel about Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider. One day, I decided to browse the internet, searching for novels about tuberculosis. I wanted a book about the struggle between life and death, about your own body betraying itself. I wanted a novel that questions life and love and the unfairness of dying young. I wanted a book that would touch my heart and make me question everything. Mostly, I wanted a book about the terrible disease known as TB. Extraordinary Means popped up so I thought I’d give it a try. What startled me was that upon reading it, I soon discovered that this novel does not take place in the early 20th century: it takes place in the present. I didn’t want this to turn me off, but I fear that it did.

You see, once, years ago, I read a book set in the 1960s or so about a girl with TB. This book has haunted me since, coming back to me in quick flashes every so often. I wanted Extraordinary Means to be like that. I wanted its theme and characters and plot to stick with me, in my mind and in my heart. Instead, I read a light novel, despite dealing with serious themes like death and morality, that I will probably forget about in a week.

I have a complicated relationship with the main characters, Lane and Sadie. Lane starts off as rather relatable: he is a straight A student who feels so much pressure to achieve and be the best that he forgets how to live. Sadie seems to be this cute yet badass chick– totally my kind of girl. While Sadie remains rather consistent, I ended up liking Lane less and less as the novel went on. By the final chapter, I was yelling profanities at him (out loud). What I didn’t get, no matter how much I tried, was their relationship. I don’t understand why they gravitated towards each other, other than the fact that Sadie is “different” and Lane is some beautiful boy Sadie remembers from long ago. I never saw the connection and sparks between them. Maybe that’s the point: maybe the novel is less about love and more about the human need to cling to life as they approach their death. Either way, I just didn’t get it.

While I appreciated the fact that the novel wasn’t a sob-fest like, say, The Fault In Our Stars (which I still love, so fight me), I was surprised by how not-sad it was. I didn’t cry or even feel sad during any part of it. In fact, I think the saddest I felt was when you get to see how segregated and feared these poor young people are. The plot in terms of who-is-going-to-die is fairly predictable, and I’m almost embarrassed to admit that towards the end, I just kept repeating “nuh uh, you’re gonna die.” Maybe I’m heartless, or maybe I just didn’t care.

The book isn’t all bad. Most of the supporting characters are very likable and interesting. The plot is predictable, yes, but it’s enjoyable. It’s a light ride, as I said before, but I’m sure it probably touches base with a lot of people and can evoke some deep emotions. Extraordinary Means has potential but in my eyes, it just didn’t quite reach what it wanted to achieve. If you’re looking for a lighter read about more than boy-meets-girl or for a YA romance with some deep themes about life and the fear of death, then this novel might be the right book for you.

I’m just sad it wasn’t the right book for me.

2 vodka-apple juice boxes out of 5.

Carry On

I take back every negative thing I have ever thought or said about Simon Snow.

9781250049551_zoom

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell is canon fanfiction. That in itself should capture your interest. As she explains in an author’s note, Carry On is not part of the book series featured in Fangirl, nor is it Cath’s fanfiction based on the book series. It is Rowell’s version of these characters, and what she ultimately calls “canon.”

Confusing? Maybe. Cool? Obviously.

If you’ve read Fangirl, then you already know the characters (to a degree) and some basic plot points (which I won’t spoil here). Honestly, the entire reason I read Fangirl was because I wanted to read Carry On (and because my friend Joy kept bugging me about it), but you don’t need to read it to enjoy this novel. I liked Fangirl (you can read my thoughts about it here) but I LOVED Carry On.

Okay, sure, Carry On is similar to Harry Potter. But any book about wizards and magic, especially magic schools, is going to be compared to Harry Potter for at least the next 40 years. So yes, they share a lot of similarities, but they are also extremely different and unique in their own right. In fact, a lot of the aspects ignored or brushed over in Harry Potter are explained in ways that make sense in Carry On (such as technology– really, how can the wizards know absolutely nothing about “Muggle” technology?! Carry On explains this by stating that no, wizards live among “Normals” because Normals are actually the source of their powers. Cool, right?). Carry On also shares a lot of similar character types with Harry Potter but each character is still different and unique enough to stand on their own.

Which brings us to Baz and Simon.

I cannot get enough of these boys. Baz and Simon are obsessed with each other. The novel for the first half or so leaves it up to the reader to determine what the obsession is really about, and whether it’s a good obsession or not. If you’ve read Fangirl (or even if you haven’t), then you can definitely pick up on a homoerotic subtext that really isn’t a subtext at all. Will they? Won’t they? Are we reading too into this? Are we just seeing the gay aspect because we’ve seen Simon and Baz through Cath’s eyes already? I’ll leave this for you to discover.

The book leaves you hanging as it sets all the pieces in front of you, but doesn’t connect them until the very end. It’s delicious in that way, but it can also be frustrating (especially with the two boys mentioned above). But frustrating doesn’t have to be bad. I sent many a message to my friend, yelling at her because of how the characters were acting, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t love every second of it.

My only complaint, and it is a small one, is the prose style. I didn’t like all the first person narrators (although only 3 or 4 were really focused on). I felt like Agatha didn’t need a first person voice, nor did some of the other characters who had a chapter or two. This is my only complaint, but I didn’t mind too much. I loved getting to see the story from both Baz and Simon’s point of view, and I loved Penny’s perception too. It just gets a bit exhausting, having to switch from one character to the next, and sometimes they’re characters we barely know.

I’m not going to lie. I genuinely love Carry On. Maybe it’s not the most sophisticated, or original, but that doesn’t mean I can’t love it. In fact, I cried a little bit when I finished, just because I was so sad that it was over. These stupid idiots are going to stay with me for a long, long time; I can’t stop thinking about them, and mourning the fact that I don’t get to read about them anymore.

Well. At least there’s always fanfiction.

5 mages out of 5.

Maurice: A Review

Take your heteronormativity and shove it.

220px-maurice_28197129_forster

Maurice by E.M. Forster is truly a hidden treasure. Written in 1912-13 but only published (by his request) after Forster’s death in 1971, Maurice tells the love story between Maurice and Clive, two young Edwardian men. What makes this novel outstanding is its honest and true portrayal of a young love that is condemned and yes, illegal, in the society and culture they live in.

Okay, so maybe the plot isn’t the most interesting, and maybe it’s not a love story that will get your heart racing like Pride and Prejudice will (my personal favourite). Maybe the characters aren’t totally fleshed out, but they are human and very deeply flawed. Clive, who starts off as the confident homosexual man, soon begins to doubt everything he knows, and he turns away from the person he knows he is to be the person society thinks he ought to be. Maurice is the reverse. He hides from the world and his self, not understanding his own feelings. He chooses to ignore them because he simply does not know what they could be. Then, Clive confesses his love, and Maurice’s world is opened, and he is finally able to see. In fact, from the moment they meet until the end of the novel, everything Maurice is depends on Clive. Maurice changes when Clive changes, and I feel like Clive enjoys the power he has over the other man. It is only at the end when Clive finally realizes the error in his ways. But like so much else, Clive chooses to take the easy route, and he turns away from any and every authentic feeling he has.

[minor spoilers ahead]

Maurice is an interesting novel because of its happy ending. Forster, in his afterward written many, many years later, says that it was always his intention for there to be a happy ending between two of the characters, and a sad ending for one. I love the ending for that reason: it shows the two possible outcomes for gay men at this time. They can run away and live happily, but isolated, together, or they can close themselves off to any true emotion in order to be “social acceptable.” It’s such a tragically beautiful message, and the ending really did touch my heart, with Clive standing alone, cut off from his only chance at love. I loved Maurice standing up for himself and, essentially, telling Clive he doesn’t need him any more. Goodness, the more I think about it, the sadder I get.

Maurice is a wonderful tale, and I think it should be read by anyone interested in LGBT+ literature. It might not be the page-turning book everyone seems to want these days, but it is a beautiful character study of love that does not focus on the love, but rather the emotions and thoughts of two people in love. It’s an examination of the impossible and how it can be possible. It shows us how difficult it can be to love, and how sometimes, we can’t overcome it. It shows us how outside forces can make our most personal choices. It shows us how far we’ve come. But most of all, it shows us that love is love is love is love…

4 lovers out of 5.

Fangirl

Finally. A book I can relate to.

fangirl-250x377

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell is cute. It’s not a hard read, or a sophisticated read, or a life changing read, but it’s a nice read. The book is light and charming, and is far too relatable for a girl like me. It’s so refreshing to read a story that I understood because I have lived her life too. Not the boys and the aggressive roommate and annoying professor, but the fangirl. I am a fangirl, and I saw so much of myself in Cath that her story felt like home.

Let’s ignore the fact that Simon Snow is clearly synonymous with Harry Potter (even though Harry Potter is mentioned in the novel…. how does no one in the novel realize that they’re the same story?). Or maybe let’s not ignore it, because maybe that’s why Cath feels so familiar. Cath is not a fangirl caricature; she is smart, and quiet, and introverted with a heart so full of love for characters that feel like family to her. Her anxieties are the same ones I feel, as is her love. I feel so much love for Cath because finally- finally!- there’s a protagonist that I relate to wholeheartedly because I am Cath.

This novel is not perfect, however. I felt like Cath was a beacon of light, and everything else was just background noise. Is it so bad that I wanted to hear more about Cath and writing fanfiction and her thoughts about fandom than I did about Levi? In fact, I rather disliked Levi. He felt far too perfect and, dare I say it, fanfiction-y. He was a Mary Sue, perfect and smiling and the male version of a manic pixie dream girl. I liked Reagan, and Wren, and their father, and I really wish we got to see more of them, because I find their relationships with Cath far more interesting than Levi. Sorry Levi.

I did appreciate Cath’s character development, and how she grows and learns to take chances and to relax a little bit and to let people in (things I still haven’t learned, but I hope someday I can). I like how she never has to give up her fictional world, and she still is able to retreat into it as her safe space and home. What I didn’t like was the ending.

(Spoilers, duh).

Why, WHY would Cath not devour that last Simon Snow book in a night? Sure, reading it with Levi is cute, but you cannot tell me that she would not have read that book by herself in one day first. Cath is a certified fangirl. Of course she’s going to read that book as fast as she humanly can. Then she can read it with Levi.

And then there was the last paragraph. This nearly ruined the entire book for me. Cath wins some prize for a short story she didn’t care about and wrote in 4 hours. Wow, what a convenient way to tie up a story in a little bow. It’s lazy storytelling, if you ask me, because it’s far too perfect. My friend pointed out that it’s a way to show the reader that Cath’s doing okay, but I call it lazy and uninspired. I like a little grittiness to my fiction, and this was just too perfect, and too cheesy. Spray-can cheese cheesy.

Other than that, I did quite enjoy Fangirl. It was cute and it hits really close to home. Fingers crossed that my life turns out as perfectly as Cath’s does.

3 and a half fanfiction chapters out of 5.