Rowell has made a name for herself with her sweet stories and realistic characters. So far I’ve read and loved Attachments and Eleanor and Park, so I had high expectations going into this one.
The plot centers on twin sisters, Cath and Wren, who are heading off to college for their freshman year. Wren can’t wait for the parties and new experiences, while Cath is having a hard time leaving her dorm room. She’s a devoted writer of fan fiction for the Simon Snow series (Harry Potteresque books.) Her new roommate Reagan is intimidating, her Dad's home alone and struggling with mental illness and Cath is having a hard time finding her way.
The beginning of the book is slow moving as Cath meanders through her classes and we depend more heavily on bits from the Simon Snow books and from her fan fiction chapters. As the novel progresses we get to know Cath a bit more and can understand why she’s hesitant to leave home and welcome change.
The second half of the book really clicked for me. I remember feeling nervous and self-conscious my freshman year in college. It can be such a tough time, especially if you aren’t a party girl, which I was not. You’re away from your high school friends and your home and I think it takes everyone a bit of time to find their equilibrium.
I read a few reviews that bashed Cath, calling her whiny or annoying. For me the crucial thing to remember is that she’s an 18-year-old girl who is struggling to adjust. I think just about all 18-year-old girls would fall into the whiny category at times, so her voice rang true for me. Cath’s struggle becomes clearer as we learn her character’s history and her apprehension begins to make more sense. The book also relies less on the Simon Snow gimmick as we become attached to Cath.
One of the most interesting aspects of the story, in my opinion, was the twin’s relationship. I have a sister who is a very different personality from me and I can’t imagine if we’d gone to college at the same time. Having a twin means you have a built in best friend who looks out for you, but it also means it can be hard to make your own friends or start a new phase in life.
Much of the second half of the book focuses on Cath's relationship with her new boyfriend, Levi. Some of their scenes made me grin like a kid. I kept thinking of my boyfriend during my freshman year in college; the infatuation, the thrill of just being near that person. That stage in a relationship is so sweet and innocent. I loved that the book didn’t end as soon as they got together. Instead it explored some of the other complicated waters of an early relationship. The ending was a bit abrupt, but overall it worked.
BOTTOM LINE: I’m continually surprised by Rowell’s ability to make me connect with characters. Eleanor and Park is still my favorite, but this was a sweet walk down memory lane. We were all vulnerable, insecure college freshman once!