Author Rainbow Rowell originally garnered accolades and success with her 2013 Young Adult novel Eleanor & Park. Since then, her other four novels have risen in popularity, gaining their own acclaim and gathering fans of all ages. This year, I read (and re-read) all five of her novels, and passed two of them along to my mother who also loved them.
It’s hard to permanently affix Rowell to the YA category when two of her books are for adults, but she transcends categorization as her teen readers will enjoy the novels with adult characters as much as adults can find resonance in her teenage books. Regardless of her characters’ ages, Nebraska, pop culture, and rich worlds of great depth figure prominently in her works. No matter what novel you pick up first, Rowell’s well established, deliciously detailed, parenthetical riddled voice will leave you eager for more.
While all of Rowell’s novels are worth reading, re-reading, passing along, and gifting to others, let me help you decide which one to pick up first or which one to gift a friend or relative.
In her 2011 debut, Rowell delivers an enchanting romance at a newspaper between an entertainment writer and the newspaper’s email monitor and computer security guy, Lincoln. Set in 1999, Lincoln falls in love with Beth through her email exchanges with her best friend and copy editor, Jennifer. Humor, heartbreak, career goals, and the ethical dilemma of reading someone else’s emails are woven together beautifully.
I loved Beth and Jennifer’s emails and how you really got to know them and their lives (both the good and bad parts) through their exchanges. Likewise, Lincoln’s post grad aimlessness was really relatable and it was nice to watch him find himself over the course of this novel.
This book is perfect for hopeless romantics, fans of You’ve Got Mail, and recent graduates struggling to find their way in the world.
This New York Times best-selling novel is about two sixteen-year-olds growing up in the eighties and bonding over punk music. Told from both Eleanor and Park’s perspectives, Rowell gives the reader rich, impactful glimpses into broken homes, cultural differences, and first love.
This high school romance really rang true for me. I loved how flawed these characters were, and I really felt for them and their struggles. And I’m always a sucker for anything that speaks to the importance of music and books in forming bonds.
For anyone who loves bittersweet first love stories, was raised on 80s punk, and is a fan of Perks of Being a Wallflower and Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist.
In the Fall of 2011, Cath begins her freshman year of college where her love of the Simon Snow fantasy series and her even greater love of writing Simon Snow fanfiction are put to the test as new friendships, changing dynamics in her family, and a creative writing professor challenge her identity, lifestyle, and talents.
I read this book twice this year (yeah, it’s that good). This is a very accurate portrayal of the college experience of anxious girls who aren’t into spending their college years partying and having sex. Also, Levi is the best. Read it for Levi alone.
This novel is perfect for anyone anxious about starting college, the Harry Potter generation (especially those who unabashedly wrote slash fanfic), and fans of Gena/Finn and Kill the Boy Band.
In this story about a middle-aged couple whose marriage is on the rocks, Rowell grapples with the concept of soulmates. In December 2013, Georgie is torn between her career and family. A magical landline telephone grants Georgie the ability to talk to a younger version of her husband during the week that changed the course of their relationship forever. But as Georgie examines the events of her past and where they’re brought her presently, she wonders if maybe she made a mistake.
All of these characters felt extremely real and like I know versions of them in my own life, especially Georgie’s mom. There’s also a lot of little details and subplots that Rowell weaves together beautifully. And Cath and Levi from Fangirl make a very subtle appearance, which I absolutely loved.
For fans of time-twisty novels like The Time Traveler’s Wife and romances like Sleepless in Seattle, sitcom junkies, and those needing a companion in their mid-life crisis, this is a perfect pick.
Featuring the characters from the Simon Snow franchise that Fangirl centered around, this is Rowell’s stab at the Chosen One archetype in fantasy novels. While reading Fangirl prior to this makes for a richer reading experience, the novel stands on its own as a humorous take on many of the fantasy series Millennials grew up with.
The multi first person POV was awesome and made me like a lot of characters I didn’t expect to. Their magical world is a really fun play on Harry Potter’s (the way spells work in this world is fantastic and comes with Dumbledore worthy musings on words). Also, Simon and Baz’s relationship is amazing, and Rowell is the best at writing kisses.
This is a great read for fangirls of Fangirl, Potterheads and other fantasy nerds, and for everyone who’s ever longed for a queer protagonist in a world of mages and vampires.
Rowell never ceases to amaze me with her versatility in genre and subject matter, humor, and poignancy. There’s something here for everyone, and these books are gifts you can guarantee won’t be left to collect dust on a shelf or returned.
Images from RainbowRowell.com