Book Recs: Vicious, Eleanor & Park, and Fangirl

September 17, 2013 at 7:20 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , , , )

Got a trio for you today, because I hit a streak of AMAZING READS.

First up, Vicious, by V.E. Schwab (also known as Victoria Schwab, of The Near Witch and The Archived fame). This one isn’t YA, but oh my God, it is just as phenomenal as her others. On the surface, Vicious is a novel about super powers, but with V, is anything ever really as it looks on the surface? This isn’t a story about heroes and villains, about good guys versus bad- there are no good characters, but there are so many STUNNING and GORGEOUS characters. I could spend days arguing about whether or not the delineation of psychopath versus sociopath is still valid when it comes the making the distinction between Eli and Victor. Aside from a scientific aptitude, they seem to have nothing in common, but they have this missing, broken piece. Victor has always acknowledged that piece, that lack of empathy, but Eli masks his, until he can’t anymore. Each of the characters is so distinct, so beautifully flawed, and yet, despite the horror of some of their acts, despite the repugnance of the beliefs they espouse (or purport to espouse), we’re invested in them. I spent the entire book cheering for Victor, Sydney, and Mitch (and Dol!). We now from the very beginning that Victor is rather twisted- HE knows he’s very twisted. And as much as that matters to the story, it doesn’t matter to us; we still want him to succeed, even as we deeply dread the possibility that he will. We don’t want the actions to happen and yet we cheer when they do. It’s brilliant. It’s sharp and jagged and so deeply creepy and unsettling and yet, incomprehensibly, there’s such a thread of hope that weaves through, the possibility of happiness in terrible circumstances, the kind of family only necessity and coincidence can form. This book is beyond words.

The other two have the same author, Rainbow Rowell, and I will be EAGERLY awaiting what she comes out with in the future. Until recently, I would have sworn with total honesty that straight up contemporary really isn’t my thing, but then Jennifer E. Smith, and John Green, and now Rainbow Rowell, and I’m seriously starting to rethink my general opinion.

Eleanor & Park doesn’t seem like a book I’d be interested in at all. I listen to 80s music at work, and enjoy it, but can’t identify any of it, or any significant bands. I usually don’t dig contemporary. I can’t really claim to be a child of the 80s because I was born halfway through the decade, so the culture references (other than the comics) go completely over my head. I mostly picked this one up because I was interested in Fangirl and it wasn’t out yet- and it blew me away. Neither Eleanor nor Park feel like they belong. Eleanor is dirt poor, pudgy, red-haired, always dresses differently. Park is half Korean, an insurmountable gulf in the eighties Midwest, with a macho father, a sporty younger brother twice his size, and a love of music and comics. What emerges over the course of the school year is fragile, uncertain, and beautiful, each of them doubting themselves and each other. Even when it’s important, even when it feels like the whole world should be waiting with bated breath for things to work…there’s never a guarantee. It’s beautiful and ephemeral and absolutely mind-blowing.

Fangirl felt like Rainbow Rowell took up residence inside my college years. I was lucky, in that I had friends already at the school and had friends going down with me, and was in a program that was, by necessity, very tight knit. But the social awkwardness, the anxieties, the absolute escape into fanfiction and the debilitating fear that there are no original worlds tucked away in my skull, because the worlds of the fics are so familiar and comfortable? The panic of growing up and growing apart and going away, and worrying over those we left behind? In some ways this book felt like it could have been my diary, except I had no Levi or Nick (and for half of that, I’m grateful). Cath is shy and nervous and afraid, someone with a very insular world: there’s her father, her twin sister, her sort-of-but-very-comfortable boyfriend, and Simon Snow. Simon Snow is an equivalent to Harry Potter, with the same kind of all-encompassing envelopment of true fans. We have the books and the movies and all the merchandise…and, of course, the fanfiction. I love that we get snippets of both the original books and the fics. I love Cath’s fiction writing professor, her roommate, her father, Levi…oh so much love for Levi. This book is laugh-out-loud funny at parts (“There are other people on the Internet. It’s awesome. You get all the benefits of ‘other people’ without the body odor and the eye contact.”), and heart-breaking, and challenging, and I can go on and on and on about how amazing this book is and still not do it any justice. This is a MUST READ.

So, what are y’all reading? Any recs?

Until next time~

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