The Glorious Mess of Rainbow Rowell

rainbow-rowellRainbow Rowell is a beloved YA author, whose books, Eleanor and Park, Attachments, and Fangirl cause people to swoon all over the place.  I read Attachments recently, and I loved it so much that I wanted to marry it.  I finished Fangirl  about half an hour ago and was weeping into my oatmeal over something that in any other book would have been inconsequential but that I related to completely.  Eleanor and Park was game changing in its depiction of prickly, unconventional characters.  What is it about Rainbow Rowell that inspires such a passionate response in her readers?

“Eleanor was right.  She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.”

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There are many things to love about Rowell’s work – her finely drawn characters, her refusal to be twee, her tendency to give even most of the villains emotional layers, and her funny and poignant dialogue.  Rowell’s voice as a writer is endlessly clever but also deeply heartfelt.  Above all else, I think that people love Rowell is that she’s not afraid to be messy.

Eleanor and Park and Fangirl are YA (Fangirl can also be considered New Adult since it’s characters are in college). Attachments is about adults.  All of these people have real problems, many of which are not resolved at the end of the story.  Some of the characters are attractive in a conventional sense, but many are not.  They have dreams that don’t fit the norm and they don’t know how to make their dreams fit into adult expectations.

“I think I missed my window,” he said.
“What window?”
“My get-a-life window. I think I was supposed to figure all this stuff out somewhere between twenty-two and twenty-six, and now it’s too late.”
“It’s not too late,” she said. “You’re getting a life. You’ve got a job, you’re saving up to move out. You’re meeting people. You went to a bar…”
“And that was a disaster. Actually, everything has been a disaster since I quit school.”
“You didn’t quit school,” she said. He could hear her rolling her eyes. “You finished your master’s degree. Another master’s degree.”
“Everything has been a disaster since I decided my life as it was wasn’t good enough.”
“It WASN’T good enough,” she said.
“It was good enough for me.”
“Then why have you been trying so hard to change it?”

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Rowell’s books have a kind of romance that seems both completely miraculous and completely obtainable.  Cath can barely leave her room, and her family is as messy by the end of Fangirl as it is at the beginning, but she finds love, and friends, and happiness.  Eleanor, in Eleanor and Park, is not conventionally beautiful and she has to steal soap to avoid smelling bad.  Lincoln (Attachments) lives at home and his mom makes him lunches for work.  And yet, all these people – people who are not stylish, or rich, or beautiful, or suave – all these people are written as people who deserve romantic, passionate, honest, faithful love.  And they get it.  So maybe we can too, regardless of where we live or what we look like or how much we make.

I love reading romance as fantasy, but I love Rowell because she suggest that romance is not fantasy.  We can have the same level of romance while we are paying bills and fretting over our weight and taking final exams as we could if we were Regency romance heroines dancing with a Duke.  We deserve love, seeking love is a worthy endeavor, and we deserve to find love if we are willing to work for it.  Rowell celebrates the messiness within and without us, and promises us happiness in the midst of all this mess.

“Happily ever after, or even just together ever after, is not cheesy,” Wren said. “It’s the noblest, like, the most courageous thing two people can shoot for.”

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