Sunday, November 10, 2013

Rainbow Rowell: Wish Fulfillment

It's no secret that superheroes are popular because they provide wish fulfillment for young (and not so young) males. Overly muscled men in tights with physics-defying powers have never appealed to me, and I occasionally wondered what form my wish fulfillment could take, if it even existed.

I found it last week in Rainbow Rowell's YA novel Fangirl.

Having just finished reading her debut YA novel, Eleanor & Park -- which is funny and stupendous even as it treats difficult topics like bullying, growing up in poverty, and being biracial -- I was a bit doubtful of the premise of Fangirl. Its main character, Cather, writes fan fiction, for god's sake, clearly setting the story in the present, so I was afraid the book would be full of the kitschily formatted texts, IMs, and other padding that occupies the pages of too many YA books these days.

But no. The fan fiction provides a well-integrated backdrop for the story. The reimagined Harry Potter stories (transformed into an alliterative doppelgänger named Simon Snow) are deftly written, as is the fan fiction based on them.

The wish fulfillment began for me almost from the first page. The book is about an anxious, intellectual, creative-writing girl starting college with a worldly stranger for a roommate. Gee, that sounds familiar. But in Rowell's capable hands, what could have been mundane becomes a believable one-year transformation of the ugly duckling into a swan. Without removing her glasses.

It takes longer than that in real life, of course -- but that's why it's wish fulfillment.

Cather has been writing slash stories about Simon Snow and his nemesis Baz (a vampire cognate of Draco Malfoy). If that's not the 21st century equivalent of a small-town girl like me writing stories about boys in gangs, I don't know what is. But Cather has found success on the interweb, to the tune of 20,000 readers waiting anxiously for her next installment. (Wish fulfillment yet again.)

Cather's experience in the world of academic creative writing is also familiar and yet different. Like me, she comes to the class writing something that's considered inappropriate for that world. The difference is that her teacher loves her work, despite one bad grade when Cather turns in a slash story. The teacher, whose own writing is described as being "about decline and desolation in rural America," is open to any type of writing as long as it's original and not derivative of another writer's characters. My teachers discouraged anything that wasn't realistic fiction. So having a teacher who was open to fantasy or science fiction would have been a dream to me.

I've always said I lost my ability to write fiction as I aged from 17 to 22 because I stopped observing life and began to participate in it. Best and wish-fulfillingest of all, Fangirl's Cather gets to do both.

Rainbow Rowell clearly has made that work, too.


More about Rainbow Rowell:

Interview with Rowell on My favorite quote:
I think anything that predominantly women like is discounted, and anything that teenage girls like is absolutely reviled. It’s the lowest of the low. If teenage girls like something, everyone feels like they can -- and maybe should -- hate it, even the girls themselves.

The thing that really enrages me is when women and girls are demeaned for wanting romance. Like there’s something weak and dumb about wanting characters to fall in love, or wanting love for yourself. THIS IS SO WRONG. Love is the finest thing. It’s the thing everyone wants and needs and searches for.
Omaha World-Herald column about Rowell's cancelled appearance in Minnesota. The upshot is that librarians in the Anoka County library were forced to rescind an invitation by a book-banning parents' group in the school district, but she was rescheduled to appear at the St. Paul Public Library (talking about censorship during Banned Books Week) and at Avalon School, a St. Paul charter school.


peppery said...

Thanks for the review. I can't wait to read this! I'd also recommend Rowell's Attachments, which was the first thing I read by her. I just finished the audiobook for Eleanor & Park, and though I'm not usually a big fan of audiobooks (I find it too easy to let my mind wander while I'm listening) it was fantastic--the two readers/performers were perfect.

Carmella said...

I am going to go fetch this one right now!

Daughter Number Three said...

I just heard about Attachments -- will have to get a copy to read! There's an auction (for Philippine relief) of a signed hard cover of it plus an ARC of her next book, Landline here: