Cath and Wren are identical twins, and until recently they did absolutely everything together. Now they're off to university and Wren's decided she doesn't want to be one half of a pair any more - she wants to dance, meet boys, go to parties and let loose. It's not so easy for Cath. She's horribly shy and has always buried herself in the fan fiction she writes, where she always knows exactly what to say and can write a romance far more intense than anything she's experienced in real life. Without Wren Cath is completely on her own and totally outside her comfort zone. She's got a surly room-mate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words ...And she can't stop worrying about her dad, who's loving and fragile and has never really been alone. Now Cath has to decide whether she's ready to open her heart to new people and new experiences, and she's realizing that there's more to learn about love than she ever thought possible ...
Ah, I now understand why everyone was raving about this - everything about this was fun and easy to relate to, from fandoms to new beginnings. It was a real coming-of-age story, focusing on Cath and her new life at university, being forced to move on but still clinging to the safety of the Simon Snow fandom, which reminded me an awful lot of Harry Potter.
I could completely empathise with Cath and her fear of new starts, the comfort of the fandom, the nerves of making new friends and moving out; she clings to the norm and that norm is her fanfiction. It doesn't matter than no one else understands, or thinks it's for kids, Cath finds comfort in writing what she knows and what is knows that that Simon and Baz love each other. Her writing professor doesn't see that way - plagiarism anyone? - but I can completely understand Cath's reluctance of letting them go. Hell, I haven't let Harry Potter go, in fact I've gotten worse! So Cath has her issues but her heart was in the right place. She has a strong connection with her twin and even though Wren was pushing her away, Cath will always be there to protect her and although it annoyed Wren, I thought it was admirable.
The variety of characters was impressive, from the fun and light-hearted Levi to the cold and sarcastic Reagan; I always love Rowell's characters, so full of life and quirks and annoying habits that make you love them - or want to smack them, whichever. They all came together to part of the story in their own way, like Reagan intimating Cath out of her shell, or Wren utterly messing her life up, or Levi flirting with her, or Nick being an obnoxious arse. It was all so sweet and heartfelt and although Cath was taking baby steps, I was incredibly proud of her, for standing up for herself and coming out of her shell. It's taken me years to do that and I envy Cath for her strength.
I cannot rave about this book enough. Actually I can but that would be a ridiculously long review! So I will stop here, with these final words: anyone who's ever felt out of place in the real world will appreciate this story of a young woman who grows up but does not need to let go of the fandom, because it is no longer just an escape but a complete love.
Published 30th January 2014 by Pan Macmillan.