You know a book is good when you hate being pulled out of the story only to return to the real world.
With other romance books, I usually love the romance and hate the couple. But something about this book hit me differently. Especially the first half, thanks to a certain someone…
The male lead, Tristan, had me wrapped around his finger. He did all the little things perfectly: went out of his way to make sure Zoey’s comfortable and safe, always held the door open, matched her pace to walk beside her, and he’s a good listener. It’s even more than that. Every response of his is literally what I want to hear. In short: someone wrote a novel with my biggest wish-fulfillment in a guy. The kind of guy I dream up in my daily fantasies. Even the tropes were all ones I loved: childhood friends, brother’s best friend, the protecting but respecting type… I was fawning all over Tristan.
I’m pressed against his chest, my head resting just below his chin. I can’t even remember the last time someone held me like this. And then it dawns on me. It was him. Back when I was eleven. My hands are flat against his stomach, and I can feel the topography of muscle beneath his T-shirt. With my ear pressed to his chest, I can hear his heart beating, strong and steady beneath my ear. I can feel the warmth and strength of his arms, and his hands, one on the center of my back and the other on my shoulder, holding me tight, pulling me closer. Over my sobs I can hear him saying, “Shhhh,” and his lips brushing the top of my head, sending a shiver down my spine that I don’t fully understand. It’s not a shiver that ends when it reaches the soles of my feet, but rather it turns and travels all the way back up my spine. Eventually, my breathing starts to calm down, to fall into sync with his, and I become acutely aware of other things, like how good he smells. I breathe in deeper, a great heaving breath that manages to calm me even further. I know I should probably pull away because I’m no longer crying, but I don’t want to. I feel safe in his arms.
My notes are all “I love him,” repeated over and over.
After one chapter, I’m like, where’s the ring? I’m getting married. He’s the dream guy, doing everything right. He’s the whole package. Oh, he’s fictional? Ouch.
“Are you cold?” Tristan asks. I shake my head. “You’re shivering,” he says, and he pulls off his sweater and gives it to me.
This had me like in GTA: BOOM WASTED.
“It’s too big on me, of course, but it’s so warm that I feel cocooned and, for a split second, even safe. It also smells of him, of citrus and something muskier, too, that makes me want to bury my nose in the fabric and breathe in deeply.”
I had to physically hold myself back from screaming. This is why I need to read these kinds of books at night when my facial expressions are hidden in the dark and no one to observe me. I want to like jump with excitement at this book. It’s so good.
It was starting to become dangerous territory. Like, I’ll never be able to look at a man the same and not have him fall flat in comparison to Tristan’s manners at the start of this book.
I even wrote, unfollow me now this is about to take over my day. I was right. I devoured this without even stopping.
I also loved the attention to detail in the writing, like the many phrases on looking at each other across the room or wanting to touch each other casually… This is what makes up a romance, noticing their eyes on you while sneaking a look.
And for once I didn’t even hate the main character. I could feel for Zoey. I understood her wholeheartedly. She’s so used to carrying the world’s problems on her shoulders that when Tristan, this kind, broad-shouldered guy shows up telling her she’s doesn’t have to face everything on her own, I was swooning. The first half of this book, i.e. the thrill of the chase, I would give five stars because it had everything I wanted. Butterflies to the max.
The second half, however, after the thrill of the chase, when the plot focused on everything but the romance is when the book started going a bit off track, for me. This is a romance! Please, don’t let side drama take over the majority of the story. This had so much potential in the second half had the side plot been dropped. Instead, it felt like another mindless episode of NCIS. Not what we’re here for…
Still, I’d recommend this book for the first half without hesitation. One of the best romance couples I’ve read in ages, if not The Best™. That’s saying a lot coming from someone who usually doesn’t like the couple at all in romance books.
The title of this piqued my Freudian interest. I love dreams and I love languages. What Language Do I Dream In? is something I always ask myself. Having moved countries at a young age, I could see myself in these pages. The many countries and languages and immigrations this book follows made for quite the premise.
I love reading about the Russian-Jewish experience because it’s so rare to see in American fiction or nonfiction. The specificity of reading about Soviet jews and the feeling of being seen it grants never fails to amaze me. It’s like that feeling you get inside when encountering someone in real life who shares the same roots, like “good to see us.” This is what this book felt like, for me. Like, it’s reading about the same stories I was told as a child of grandmothers spending years in evacuation.
“When my grandmother and my mother were evacuated to Bashkiria during the war, my grandmother worked in a factory seven kilometers away from where they lived. In winter, as she walked home every evening along an empty road in complete darkness, she saw wolves’ eyes following her from very close by. The wolves were hungry. My grandmother was petrified. But she had no choice, and just kept walking. This is how her generation faced everything in life: by doing what they had to do, despite the ever-present fear.”
I love that last line.
“Having lost our homes, we are jealous of the steadfastness of the homes of others. We need to latch on to their roots and connect with stories that will never be ours.”
This is why I’m so obsessed with nostalgia and looking for things that resemble the past.
Also, capturing the loss of a language while learning a new one. I loved seeing this brought to the page. Especially when she has her own child and notices how easily the language slips away from her. What a moment.
“It was like having a secret language for just the two of us.”
Oh, and the Russian-Jewish humor is so hard to find in other books because it’s so specific to the language. Case in point:
“I emailed him a photo of a similar gun I had found on the internet and asked if he thought they were the same make and period. He shot back in Czech, without missing a beat: ‘I wish I had your problems!’”
The only other author I’ve experienced this feeling with is David Bezmozgis. So I would love any book recommendations if you have them…
The only thing I do wish from this book: To have spent more time inside Elena’s head as each of these progressions in her life happened. I wanted more insight into what she was thinking when she met her future husband or when she had her kids. She has lived quite the life. Quite the rare life. So I wanted more insight into her thoughts. Like, in hindsight, was there some moment of foreshadowing now that she can look on things back? I wanted more of that. One of those moments where you wish you could write the author to talk in detail…
This is the funny thing about reading memoirs, you can actually go check on the people mentioned in it online and feel like you know them. Lurking online like a distant family member, but in reality, you’re just a curious reader…
Prepare for an epic Battle of the Books in this review of Fangirl VS Fangirl, vol. 1. I’m going to start with an alarming statement: This adaptation was making me hate my all-time favorite book.
*REWIND TO MY FIRST IMPRESSION*
Nothing might top the excitement I felt before opening this illustrated adaptation of my favorite book. Maybe having a movie adaptation. This is the closest I might get to that wish. I thought it was going to be like having fanart of all my favorite scenes. I mean, I have two reviews up on my blog where I talk all about my love for these characters: Why I Fangirl over Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl (Spoilers: Levi) & Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. And even more reviews of Rowell’s other books. Landline was a recent favorite for all the introverts seeking love.
Of course, I couldn’t tame the temptation of starting this book even though I was a week before an important exam… This perfectly mirrors my experience of reading Fangirl back in January 2014 for the first time, also known as the night before my math exam. I started the book before going to bed thinking it would help calm my nerves before the exam and help me fall asleep… Oh, I had to force myself to part from this book at 2am – not because I was tired (Fangirl made me feel alive) but because I couldn’t possibly think straight if I didn’t go to sleep right then and there. It’s funny the way life circles back to you.
I remember my thoughts at school that day, after reading Fangirl into the night, centered entirely on Levi. I had never before expended such intense emotions for a book. I missed being away from these characters. Is that love?
I felt like talking about Fangirl to anyone willing to listen like these characters were real people I knew. I had to hold myself back from letting all my thoughts spillover. What an experience… It’s what made me start looking for more books to read instead of browsing for new popular Wattpad stories (fans of The Cellphone Swap hit me up*).
I can’t put into words all that Fangirl got me through. It was my first physical copy of a book I loved. When I’d get bored with whatever library book I was reading Fangirl would be the book I would reach for. Anytime I was sad or anxious, I would flip to a page in Fangirl to cheer me up. Anytime an important event happens in my life I hear quotes from the book in my head mirroring my thoughts. Like when starting something new and hearing Cath’s “In new situations, all the trickiest rules are the ones nobody bothers to explain to you. (And the ones you can’t Google.)” Y’know, the best of lines.
Bottom line: This book means the world to me.
I thought I was being patient by taking my time with this adaptation instead of devouring it in one sitting. I even wrote in my notes: me being able to actually put the book aside to sleep before an important day? You know what that is growth.
I was even glad for my patience because I needed the comfort of this world after the monstrosity of that exam. In hindsight, it wasn’t patience so much as avoidance of the impending disappointment that was slowly creeping up the more I read on.
It started out fine enough at first with the initial excitement still shaping my reading experience. I was just so grateful to be back in a world I so love and cherish with new insight. Then came the first few moments of doubt creeping in with thoughts like, “Huh, why did they change that?” “Huh, why did they leave that out?” I pushed it aside thinking it was just the first few pages getting used to this storytelling. The more it happened the heavier my disappointment. In some cases having lines omitted was a big no-no. Her waking up in a new place voiced one of the most iconic lines. Why get rid of it? At one point, I started numbering each disappointment so it would be easier to find for my final review. I took endless notes. I stopped enjoying the storyline and was more focused on what next iconic line would be reduced. My only hope was to reach my favorite scene with Levi, aka reading The Outsiders.
Narrator: And that’s when she realized this is the first installment out of four and what if it ends before the best of scenes appears and she would have to wait who knows how many months more. Despair set in.
Spoiler: I hate that I skipped ahead. To my disappointment, the narrator was right. This installment ends right when things were supposed to pick up in the storyline.
I remember being utterly shocked at my realization that I was actually not enjoying this book. At all. And that’s why I wasn’t devouring it in one sitting. How was it that deep inside I knew (aka my avoidance) but it took a full day for my head to catch up? Freud was right all along. I never even considered myself being unhappy with this book as an option. It was either love or super love. Oh, youth.
Throughout my reading experience, I kept feeling like this manga was just here to complete a deadline because it took all the best lines from the book and put them on paper and c’est tout – nothing is happening on the page to bring the words alive. We already read the storyline once. The words existed before this point. This book can’t depend on the words moving us. So the art should be here as a distraction from the words. Make me feel the storyline through art so that we don’t depend on the words to move the story along. We already know what happens.
Also, it made it extremely hard to empathize with Cath in here when all her inner dialogue is essentially gone and we’re only left with what she says to others, which can come across as quite aloof and rude. Like Levi put it in the original book: “I can see why you and Reagan hit it off.” He got up to follow her. “You can both be extremely brusque sometimes.”
He’s right that other people might perceive her that way, but in Fangirl when you read her inner monologue, you can empathize with her actions. This is not the case in this manga adaptation when the majority of her inner monologue is wiped away.
Me agreeing with Wren? Unheard of. Until now. This scene might’ve legit unleashed my wrath. It triggered my flight or fight response.
In the book, you can see Cath feeling overwhelmed before this scene by all the new territory and the accompanying intense fear and anxiety she’s experiencing. You get inside her head. Here you just get this scene where her sister is trying to include her and Cath’s like, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Give us some character building so we’re on Cath’s side here. You can’t just dump it on us and expect to side with her. And one page of seeing her lonely isn’t going to cut it. We need to get inside her head.
Case in point of info dump #1:
So much T E X T.
I was supposed to get all the feels when seeing Levi… Instead, I was perplexed by the choice of art wherein Abel looks more like Levi than Levi does. I mean, let me ask the audience:
THAT’S ABEL?? He literally looks like Levi on the cover art of Fangirl…
I mean even her dad looks more like Levi than Levi does in this adaptation…
I am confusion.
Levi looks more like Gansey from The Raven Cycle with this golden prep boy aesthetic. Let’s all recall that he’s supposed to be a cute farmer boy in green Carhartt.
I guess my main disappointment in this volume stems from the art – not the style but the fact that it doesn’t add anything to the storyline. It’s like when the choreography to a song is about what the lyrics are literally saying, instead of moving your body to the feel of the song so that the audience can feel it too. I want to be moved by the words through art and not have the art transcribe the text. This is especially seen in the above info dump #1.
Shouldn’t that be the whole point of adapting a book that already exists into comic book format or manga? To re-experience the story through the art so that it feels like reading it for the first time. This is not that. These characters don’t move. There’s no life in them. I can’t imagine them talking when I close the book, you know? In the best of books, you can imagine the characters moving outside the storyline. That’s what fanfiction is about when the world is so alive you can imagine any scenario with your faves. This is what it felt like in the original book. It works so well in the original because the inner dialogue is so integral to the story.
This adaptation was making me hate my all-time favorite book. Dangerous territory for me because sir, those are my emotional support characters.
I feel like Cath when Reagan is critiquing her poster: “leave them alone, they’re in love.” They took the best parts of the book and barely gave it the time of day it deserved. All the best moments are either left out or just done poorly. I wanted this adaptation to feel like when I see fanart of my favorite scenes: Alive. I left grossly let down. And you can see I wrote this whole thesis to let it all out.
The only thing that benefited from this manga style was the Baz and Simon storyline, which is all too easy to skip over in the original book, but really fit in with this format. Maybe that’s because in Fangirl they appear so stiff and formal that this book could only benefit them.
I have this tiny sliver of hope that the next volume will pick up in speed and align the art more with the feel of the book. Also, I hope it features my favorite reading scene… All that’s keeping me afloat right now.