I really don't know how to review this book, guys. It was such a mindfuck that I'm not sure the right words even exist to describe this, but I'll try.I really don't know how to review this book, guys. It was such a mindfuck that I'm not sure the right words even exist to describe this, but I'll try. It's dark, twisted and strange. On some level, I knew what the twist was -- which is my only criticism -- but the final one at the very, very end? WHOA. What the fuck did I just read?
Unfortunately, I can't really talk about any aspects of this novel without completely giving it away, so you'll just have to read it for yourself. If you enjoy psychological thrillers, unreliable narrators, weird characters, this book is for you....more
Georgie McCool is at the peak of her TV writing career with the news of the one show she and her best friend, Seth, had been dreaming aMore of a 3.5.
Georgie McCool is at the peak of her TV writing career with the news of the one show she and her best friend, Seth, had been dreaming about since they first started working together right out of college. It’s everything she’s ever wanted. The only problem is, she’d have to skip the family Christmas vacation to Omaha that’s been planned weeks in advanced. Neal, being the kind and loving husband that he is, doesn’t push her, but is visibly upset that Georgie considers staying behind in California, spending Christmas away from him and their girls. But what can she do? It really is the big break she’s been waiting for, the chance of a lifetime. But is it worth it?
While separated from her husband and children, Georgie contemplates her marriage and how she and Neal went from deeply in love to a shockingly tense relationship. Through the help of a “magical fucking phone”—as Georgie calls it—she’s able to communicate with Neal from the past before they were even engaged. I was fascinated by this premise and was anxious to get my hands on a phone like that. Alas, Target does not sell it.
On the surface, Landline would appear to be a romance novel with science fictional elements added thanks to the magical phone, but it’s really way more than that, but also none of that at the same time. It takes a deeper look at the age old saying: Sometimes love just isn’t enough. In essence, that’s what Georgie relied on to keep her marriage together for so long until she realized it was falling apart. Can love really endure all things?
"We're not broken up." "I know, but we're still broken."
Much of the novel centers around a delicate balance of past and present narration, from Georgie. We learn how they met, we see them fall in love, we root for them before we understand why their marriage lost its spark. This sort of narration can be tricky and convoluted if it feels choppy. However, Rowell pulls this off very well and weaves it around the magical phone conversations with Past Neal. It’s entirely relevant and without the past narration, we’d never really get a sense of this Past Neal because he is very much a separate character from Present Neal. In fact, in the end, we get better picture of Past Neal than Present.
Past Georgie is just fascinating and relatable. At the time she marries Neal, she’s in her early 20s and feels like everything will work out because she has this deep love for her husband and he for her. She would have never imagined them ever falling to pieces because they were perfect for each other. But that’s really where Rowell succeeds with her character arc. When you’re young and you think you have forever, you don’t think about all the possible ways things will break.
"You don't know when you are twenty-three. You don’t know what it really means to crawl into someone else’s life and stay there. You can’t see all the ways you’re going to get tangled, how you’re going to bond skin to skin. How the idea of separating will feel in five years, in ten—in fifteen. When Georgie thought about divorce now, she imagined lying side by side with Neal on two operating tables while a team of doctors tried to unthread their vascular systems."
Rowell has a way of speaking to your soul and it singing back without you knowing it at first. Even though I personally haven’t been a huge fan of her writing in the past, Landline did grab me and jerk a few tears from my eyes. When Georgie started to really rethink her choice of staying behind, I connected with her more. I understood her conflicted feelings of wanting love to be the cure-all for her marital issues. I felt for her deep affection of Neal despite her not understanding how to fix the problem. She struggles with the knowledge of knowing much of the problem is her, that she’s been selfish and not considerate enough to Neal over the years. It’s very self-depreciating for Georgie and she spends most of her conversations with Past Neal trying to convince him to never propose to her in the first place.
I really appreciate how Rowell just seems to get relationships and how she manages to create such interesting dynamics. Georgie and her best friend, Seth, with their witty banter and easy conversation, was entertaining and held all the signature Rainbow Rowell humor fans have grown to love and expect from her novels (especially the 80s references because it wouldn’t be a Rainbow Rowell novel without them!). Georgie and her two girls had the most adorable scenes, with her youngest insisting on Georgie saying goodbye by meowing. It was little quirky things like this that brought a smile to my face and made the side characters feel just as real and developed as the main ones.
If there is one thing I could complain about with Landline, is the “magical fucking phone.” I really wanted more from it. I expected Rowell to explore the reasons behind the time traveling, but there wasn’t any. By the end of the novel, the focus remained on Georgie and Neal’s relationship and it left behind more questions than answers. While the phone does play a large part in the book, it’s always just a passing thought for Georgie. She does think about the mechanics behind it a few times, but it’s brief and didn’t satisfy my curiosity. How did it work? What were the consequences of the space time continuum for using this phone? Did Neal really know about the phone? Does Georgie’s family home hold any other super powered 80s magical devices? Did the Doctor create the magical phone?! Am I thinking about this too hard?!
Overall, Landline is a solid novel about what happens to a relationship when you are well past the infatuation, past the first years of marriage and into a barren territory you never thought you’d be in. How do you find your way back to the oasis and why can’t love save you? If you were hoping this was Rowell mixing her quirky contemporary with a bit of science fiction, you may be underwhelmed on that notion. However, I wouldn’t discount it because of that. It’s not what I was expecting, that’s for sure, but I wasn’t disappointed with what I found in its place.
I didn't want to admit it, but after reading all of her books now, I can safely say her writing style jIt's time for Rainbow Rowell and I to break up.
I didn't want to admit it, but after reading all of her books now, I can safely say her writing style just isn't for me. It's like that time I cheerfully broke up with Cassandra Clare, though, admittedly, over different reasons. But this time it hurts. It wounds me to realize that I can't join in with all my friends, ride the Rainbow iz Queen bandwagon, roll around in a meadow of flowers that magically whispers witty Rainbow Rowell quotes and feast at the Fangirl banquet. I know it may seem foolish to be disappointed. I mean, what can a person physically do? No book can be universally loved and I did give it the good old college try.
Here's the thing: For all intents and purposes, I should have loved Fangirl.
The strange thing about my reading experience with Fangirl is that I actually deeply connected with all of the characters on a personal level. As a person who suffers from anxiety and has dealt with a father who was admitted to a mental hospital when I was a teen, I sympathized with Cath. I remembered those feelings of craving independence from my sibling as Wren did. I understand having an intense passion for a fandom and being at midnight parties, waiting for the next book in your favorite series. I even connected with Laura's inability to handle life as a mom. In a lot of ways, quite a few of the experiences these characters dealt with, I have dealt with. For that reason alone, I gave this book an extra star. Unfortunately, that was not enough for me.
Rainbow Rowell lives and breathes characters. They are fluid, realistic (for the most part... Eleanor & Park excluded), memorable, flawed, and relatable. These aren't the type of characters that stay on the page. They shout, scream and jump out at you because Rowell is just that good. But it's also her flaw because that's all she writes, characters. In fact, many times it feels like her stories have neither a beginning or an ending, with the reader viewing a piece of a character's life through a small window of time. So I'm convinced that Rowell can't plot her way out of a brown paper bag.
I know that might anger some of you, but hear me out.
Fangirl is a very character-driven novel and doesn't actually have a plot. Rowell's created these characters, placed them in situations and forced them to react to said situations. She's great at that. But where does the book go from there? Which direction are the characters moving? What are they moving towards? What's the goal of the novel? These are some questions I've asked myself through every one of her books. And I often feel like I'm floundering around in her prose like someone who's gone swimming in the ocean drunk. Everything around these characters is static. Only they move from point A to point B to further the story along. Because of this, if you don't happen to fall in love with the characters early on, the story doesn't work. Rainbow Rowell's characters ARE her stories.
One thing positive that came out of reading all of Rowell's books is that, I've learned that I am not the character-driven sort of reader. I'm more of a reader that needs a strong plot to see me to the end of the book. I can deal with unlikable characters or characters that have issues if the plot can save the day. I have the patience of a fruit fly and if I'm expected to sit around reading about a character who is waiting for something to happen to them, then forget it. You've lost me as a reader.
The second issue I had with Fangirl was Rowell, once again, tip-toeing around elephants in her stories. Her novels are so focused on her characters that she never addresses things that feel essential to the plot. With Fangirl is was the slash fic and how it relates to fandom. With Landline it was the magical phone. With Eleanor and Park it was race and Park's self acceptance. It's the same formula for each of her books over and over again.
Step 1: Develop characters for half the book! Step 2: Introduce something heavy to center my quirky characters around something. Step 3: End the book without tying up loose ends because they served my purpose and Honey Rainbow don't care.
It's the most frustrating thing about her books! It's like she dances around the heavy stuff on purpose! There is almost always something that feels deliberately left out, basically anything that could remotely make the story more interesting. Which leads me to my third point...
Fangirl is boring. While I could relate to Cath, she is the dullest person to read about ever. The only scenes that she showed life with was either with her dad or Levi when she suddenly had a personality and wanted to be witty. Those scenes were the best in the book and what kept me reading. But they were few and far between and I started to question why this book was over 400 pages. Not even the fan fiction or cute romance could save this book.
And let's talk about this Simon and Baz fan fiction. Clearly it is a homage to Harry Potter, yet, Harry Potter happens to exist in the same universe as Simon Snow? No, I don't buy that. That's a plotberg if I ever saw one. The fan fiction sections in the novel really didn't do much for me. This isn't because it wasn't good, but because it didn't have enough page time for me to attempt to connect with the Simon and Baz. I did feel like bashing my head in when Cath would read Levi the long sections of her fic, so I guess they did spawn some type of emotional reaction in me, albeit, not a positive one. Also, did Cath ever finish her fic? Rowell wrote so much about Simon and Baz and just completely left that open... AGAIN FRUSTRATING.
Side note: I'm really curious to see how Rowell manages to write Carry On, Cath's fan fiction of Simon Snow, without people directly comparing it to Harry Potter. I mean, essentially it's Draco/Harry fic. But since monetizing fan fiction is now a thing, *cough* Cassandra Clare, E.L. James *cough* who am I to stop her?
To conclude, Fangirl ultimately let me down, but I'm not entirely disappointed that I read it. I learned something about myself as a reader and I did gain a few good laughs from the clever banter. I wouldn't call this a terrible book, and hey, it was better than Eleanor and Park. So there's always that.
Should I break out in song and dance to "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep?" One lonely star. I'm just as surprised as you are, considering I just KNEW going intoShould I break out in song and dance to "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep?" One lonely star. I'm just as surprised as you are, considering I just KNEW going into Eleanor & Park that I would love it, love it, love it. What reason would I have to believe otherwise? Almost all of my friends loved this book and have sworn fealty to the Goddess of Feels and Might, Rainbow Rowell. And I get it because she is a pretty awesome person and I think she is totally lovely. So trust me when I say I REALLY wanted to love this book. In fact, I am blindsided that I didn't, saddened that I can't join the Eleanor & Park Kool Kidz Fan Club and disappointed at such a disjointed reading experience.
Random Reasons Why I Didn't Like This Book:
1. The Romance
My main issue stems from the romance between Eleanor and Park. I just... didn't get it. Though, that's not for lack of trying because I had many arguments with Adult Me and Teen Me in my brain. Teen Me remembers the infatuation of meeting someone exciting and experiencing all those special moments for the first time. However, with Eleanor and Park, it was entirely unrealistic and unbelievable.
Park went from "God! Just sit the fuck down, Eleanor!" to "God, she has incredibly soft hands."
Eleanor went from "That stupid Asian kid" to "He's so pretty. I love his hair! I want to eat his face!"
The next thing I know, Park is telling Eleanor that he's in love with her, how he can't imagine being without her, that she's IT for him. Then Eleanor is telling him she doesn't breathe when she's away from him. Adult Me was not on board because the romance moved entirely too swiftly for my feelings to catch up with the events that were taking place. No, I take that back. "Swiftly" would indicated that there was some sort of actual pacing involved, but that was absent. One day they disliked each other and the next they were holding hands and proclaiming their love.
I remember listening to that part while I was out on a morning run, and I had to stop and rewind because I legitimately thought I missed an entire chapter. But then I realized that I hadn't and I argued with myself.
Adult Me: *twitch* Teen Me: Yeah, but remember when you thought you were in love with that guy and how you were going to marry him? Adult Me: Yes... Teen Me: So obviously they're not going to be together forever and ever and gallop into the sunset, but you can't discount those feelings. Adult Me: *gumbles* I KNOW THAT. But I also never wanted to eat a guy's face... Teen Me: Please don't tell me I grow up without a heart. Adult Me: ...
2. The Historical Background
Eleanor & Park takes place in Omaha, 1986, where there's racial tension. Park is half white and half Korean. He spends most of his time trying not to be noticed by other kids at school and struggling with his own insecurities over his mixed heritage. Yet, oddly, throughout the entire novel, Park doesn't encounter any racism. Apart from a few brief monologuing sessions about his classmates thinking he was Chinese, Eleanor's off-hand "stupid Asian kid" remarks and Park's own dislike for, in his opinion, looking too feminine, there wasn't anything that felt accurate.
Park's character had so much more potential that was not utilized. I was hoping for something more from his development regarding how he viewed himself and his mother. Perhaps a certain level of acceptance or resolve would have been appropriate.
There were also two black girls who befriend Eleanor, but even they don't seem to face any racism in this predominately white neighborhood. It was like Rowell deliberately tip-toed around them and instead threw in a reference to the community being offended by a black boy getting a white girl pregnant. Strangely, the only one who seemed to get picked on was Eleanor. I do think it's awesome that this novel had diversity, something that is sorely missing in YA, but I wasn't buying what Rowell was selling.
At the same time, Rowell never let you forget that this book was set in the 80s since Eleanor & Park is overloaded with pop culture references on almost every other page. (I admit to chuckling to the 867-5309 reference.) Still, we also never forgot Park was Asian with Eleanor constantly referencing it in her narration to the point that I started feeling uncomfortable.
3. The Narration
I wasn't a huge fan of the back and forth narrative and found that it annoyed me more than anything. This is where I wonder if my rating is more an indication of how I felt about the audio vs. the actual story. I disliked both of the narrator's voices. The parts of Eleanor's dialogue that was "snarky" wasn't portrayed with the right kind of emotion. Park's narration was slightly better, but the narrator, Sunil Malhotra, bored me to tears with his monotone reading and unbelievable voice for Eleanor.
4. The Story
I'll be honest and admit that it's possible that I didn't "get" this book. It may have just gone way over my head. Why? Rowell tried to cram a lot of story and situations into one little book and it didn't work for me. Before going into Eleanor & Park I was told that the ending was heartbreaking, but I didn't feel that at all. Rowell relies on Eleanor's grim family life to spark sympathies from readers and I can see how this works and why it's marketed to John Green fans. However, the ending relies on your connection to their romance to feel the heartbreak. The problem with that was, by the end, I wanted to know what became of Eleanor's mom and siblings, but the focus was instead on her feelings for Park and letting him go. Eleanor spent a good amount of the story in this terrible environment, feeling these feelings and when I genuinely wanted to know her feelings about everything, all I get is a freaking post card and the book ends. Since the romance was doing absolutely nothing for me, I needed for the plot to come in and rescue this book. It did not.
I'm not saying this was a terrible book. Not by a long shot. It's clear that this story has touched a lot of people and I wouldn't go as far to not recommend it, but I also think this is a bit overhyped. I went in with really high expectations, thinking I was going to be blown into next week by the awesome. Instead, I'm walking away with feelings brewing a special pot of "meh."