If there’s a writer out there as emotionally naked as Rainbow Rowell, I certainly haven’t found her. While many authors take a step back, manipulating their characters from an omnipotent distance, Rowell’s four books all feel like extreme close-ups—of falling in love, embarrassment, characters losing and finding themselves. Reading Rowell’s books feels like reading the diary of an acquaintance, someone you always thought was interesting but don’t know well at all. It is uncomfortable in the best of ways.
Of Rowell’s four published works, two (Fangirl and Eleanor & Park) are ostensibly written for a young adult audience, while the others (Landline and Attachments) apply her unique brand of emotional honesty to adult characters and situations.
If you’re an adult reader looking for something interesting yet relatable, I’d suggest starting with Attachments, Rowell’s 2011 debut novel chronicling email monitoring in the workplace. Written largely as a series of correspondence between colleagues Beth and Jennifer, the plot follows Lincoln, an Internet Security Officer who begins to get a little too involved in the personal lives of the employees whom he is forced to monitor.
While I found all of Rowell’s books charming and brave, in my opinion, the unquestionable high point of her oeuvre is the 2013 YA novel, Eleanor & Park. Told from the alternating perspectives of the leads, Eleanor & Park follows two high school misfits who fall in love, despite in many ways living in different worlds. While the prospect of juvenile characters might be a turn-off for some adult readers, this novel is bursting with teenage nostalgia. When I finished it, I thought of my daughter; she is only 2 years old, but eventually (and probably all too soon), she will grow up and fall in love for the very first time. When she does, I will give her this book.
All of Rowell’s worlds embody a certain amount of wide-eyed idealism (and even magic realism in the case of Landline), but her work is ultimately grounded by likeable, relatable characters. Her heroines have curves and frizzy hair; they are self-conscious while mostly avoiding unnecessary self-pity. They could be your best friends, and you’d probably want them to be.
Each book is a quick, light read, but if you’re yearning for more, Rowell’s fifth novel, Carry On, comes to shelves in October. In the meantime, if you want more novels starring awkward, funny ladies, Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary is even better as a book than as a movie. If, on the other hand, you lean more towards the YA side of things, try Caitlin Moran’s How to Build a Girl, one of my favourite books of 2014.
Number of books: 4
Read in order: Nope!
Highlight: Eleanor & Park