Rating: 5 stars
Cather and Wren are twins (their mother hadn't planned on twins but always wanted to name a girl Catherine - so just split the name). Their whole life has been spent together, sharing a room, sharing interests, especially their love of Simon Snow (think basically Harry Potter, if Draco was his room mate, and also a vampire). Cath and Wren write fan fic read by tens of thousands of fans, while everyone awaits the release of the eight and final Simon Snow book. Cath doesn't really think much will change when they go off to college, but then Wren declares that she wants to live in a different dorm from Cath, and spends most of her time having the crazy party girl freshman experience, leaving Cath anxious and adrift in a new and confusing place.
Cath isn't even sure she wants to be at college. She's worried about their father, who manages fine most of the time, when his girls remind him to eat, and do the dishes, and the laundry. His mental health really isn't as stable as it ought to be, and Cath doesn't think he should be by himself. For the first couple of weeks, she barely even leaves her dorm room, just holes up and eats energy bars, goes to lectures and continues her fan fiction grand opus. The only people she sees are Reagan (who seems very popular, but kind of aggressive and angry all the time), and Reagan's boyfriend Levi, who works at Starbucks and studies farming and is happy and cheerful all the time, winning even the bitterest of souls over with his charming attitude. Reagan decides to "adopt" Cath, and forces her to come to meals (where they quietly mock and make up stories about everyone else there).
There are other reasons Cath has trouble adjusting to college: her writing professor, who Cath admires greatly, is completely dismissive of and refuses to support fan fiction. She won't let Cath hand in anything even vaguely inspired by Simon Snow, and keeps pushing Cath to write things well outside her comfort zone. Wren keeps pulling away from Cath, and seems to spend most of her time getting dangerously drunk with her roommate. She also wants to reconnect with the girls' mother, who abandoned them the week after 9/11 to "find herself". Still scarred by the betrayal and remembering how much it affected their father, Cath wants nothing to do with her, or even to hear her mentioned. Finally, there's her father's health. Cath is right to be worried about her dad, who while he tries to sound chipper, really doesn't deal as well without his daughters as he'd like to think.
It's no secret that I love Rainbow Rowell. Attachments was one of my top 3 books of 2011, and if I hadn't been made so intensely uncomfortable by Eleanor's home life in Eleanor and Park, I probably would have given that five stars too. I literally screamed with joy when I saw that I'd been granted an ARC by St. Martin's Press through NetGalley. To say that my expectations were high was not an understatement. After completing it, I can say that Attachments is probably still my favourite, but this is a worthy second place.
I've been a fangirl of many things over the years, but I've never really understood the appeal of fan fiction, be it the reading or writing thereof. Obviously I'm aware that it exists, and that thousands of people around the world spend their time, like Cath in this book, on forums, and message boards and fan fiction sites. I'd rather just re-read the books I loved, or watch the TV shows, rather than reading someone else's interpretation of the characters and stories that I loved. Yet Rowell writes Cath so well, that while I was urging her to break out of her comfort zone and live and meet boys and use her considerable writing talent to create her own character and worlds, rather than stay safe in the world of the fantasy characters she loved, I could also understand why it was important and necessary for her.
I can also add the Simon Snow books to the list of fictional books that I desperately want to get my hands on. The first instance of being almost more caught up in the fiction within the fiction was probably when I read Misery by Stephen King as a teenager. I would have been completely hooked on those books. I was upset that they didn't exist. I love the fact that I can read Richard Castle's actual Nikki Heat books. The various excerpts from Simon Snow books in Fangirl (usually at the end of each chapter) made me desperate to read more. I suspect I would enjoy them more than certainly the later Harry Potter books.
This is becoming a really long review, and while I've written a bit about Cath, I've not really covered much about the other wonderful characters in this book. Wren, who so understandably wants to try to define herself away from her identical twin sister. Their father, with his manic ideas and so much affection for his daughters. Reagan, Cath's roommate, and of course, Levi, who I fell madly in love with, and have added to the list of my many fictional boyfriends and future husbands. If you've even vaguely enjoyed a Rainbow Rowell book in the past, do yourself a favour and read this one. If you haven't, this is a great book to start with, although I suspect you might need to have some affinity to fandom of some kind to really sympathise fully with Cath. While I was given this ARC, I will totally pay full price for the book when it's actually released in September, and begin my impatient wait for Rowell's next book.