In early July, Rainbow Rowell's fourth novel, LANDLINE, will be released, and I can't wait. Rowell has been receiving much attention since last year, when she published two YA books that were wildly popular with both teens and grown-up readers. Her earlier novel, and the forthcoming one, are aimed at adults, with older characters and concerns. Since January, I've devoured all Rowell's published work, and she has become one of my favorite authors.
→ I started with FANGIRL, and I loved it right from the start. My full review is here. The brief version is that I found unexpected depth, intriguing characters, and clever plotting in the story of an anxious college freshman who would much rather be writing fanfiction than venturing outside her dorm room.
→ ATTACHMENTS took a little longer to charm me, but once it did, I fell in love with Rowell's writing all over again.
In this adult novel, Beth and Jennifer work at a city newspaper, where they spend much of the day exchanging email about problems with their relationships and families. Lincoln works in the IT department at the paper, and it's his job to read the email that gets flagged for inappropriate language or suspicious frequency. (Also, it's 1999.) Beth and Jennifer's exchanges keep ending up in Lincoln's monitoring queue. He ought to send them a warning about using the office email system for personal communication, but he's grown to like them through their messages, so he doesn't want them to get in trouble. And he doesn't want the messages to stop.
It's a cute, funny premise that sounds like it will lead to a cute, funny story, and it does, in part. But the actual novel that eventually develops is rich, unexpected, and sometimes quite dark. Rowell excels at crafting substantial, unconventional stories out of elements that could be fluffy and predictable in other hands.
At times the storytelling in ATTACHMENTS is a little constrained by the structure, and the style of the email messages sometimes stretches credibility. Overall, though, this is a wonderful book, packed with great characters, brilliant lines, and touching moments.
→ ELEANOR AND PARK is an excellent teen love story, but it didn't connect with me as deeply as Rowell's other work. Because FANGIRL and ATTACHMENTS both surprised me in how their stories unfolded, I was expecting the same thing here. Instead, the romantic plot is fairly standard, though well-rendered and with atypical protagonists.
The book is really all about the atypicalness of the characters. Eleanor dresses weird, has too much red hair, and is fat, so as a new student, she's an immediate target for the mean popular kids. Park doesn't fit in either -- he likes comics and the wrong music, and he's half-Korean -- but he grew up in the neighborhood and is tolerated as long as he doesn't attract too much attention. When Park lets Eleanor sit down next to him on the bus, it put unwanted attention on them both, and they try ignoring each other to avoid making the situation worse. But over time, they notice each other more and more. The result is an emotional romance that brings them both joy and pain.
Real teen emotions tend to be extreme, and an accurate portrayal in fiction sometimes irritates me as an adult reader, but in this case I found myself able to identify with Eleanor and Park's feelings, even at the most angsty. I can see why this book has been so successful with readers of all ages.
Good Stuff Out There:
→ In the New Yorker's Page-Turner blog, Akhil Sharma relates his difficulties writing a novel based on a tragedy in his own family: "There was a third technical challenge to writing the book, and this last one was what I found hardest to solve. The story I was planning to tell had very little plot. A truly traumatic thing occurs to the family and then the family begins to unravel. The misery of this family's daily life takes a slow toll. Real life is plotless, but the experience of reading books that replicate this can be irritating."