Omaha writer Rainbow Rowell received some great reviews for her last novel, the young adult novel “Eleanor & Park.” She is following up with another winning young-adult book, “Fangirl.”
Her story follows twins Cather (call her Cath, she insists) and Wren as they leave their single-parent dad in Omaha for college at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Wren is thrilled with the challenge and wants the independence of a roommate other than her twin sister. Cath is scared by just about everything she encounters in her new life as a college freshman: living in the dorm, prickly roommate Reagan, finding the cafeteria, talking to strangers.
Make no mistake. This is Cath's story.
Her one constant is her fangirl blog about a Harry Potter-type series of books based on a magic school student named Simon Snow. To her, Simon and the other characters in his books are more real than the live people around her.
As she continues to write her own Simon Snow adventure in her blog (in which Simon and his archenemy, vampire Baz, become lovers), Cath eventually learns to navigate the ups and downs of life on campus, tries to bridge the gulf between her and Wren, deals with the reappearance of her long-lost mother, endures betrayal and finds first love.
The author actually offers more than one story because readers also follow the Simon-Baz story in Cath's blog.
Rowell writes with plenty of humor to keep the story from getting too serious or bogged down in youthful angst. My favorites: when a student compares Cather and Wren to Clark Kent and Superman, and the explanation of the twins' first names (and no, it doesn't have anything to do with Willa).
It sounds a little trite, but reading Cath's story of her freshman year is truly like watching a bud unfold into a flower. I hesitate to call this a “sweet” story, but that really is a good descriptive word.
“Fangirl” is just plain fun to read.
Rowell won't always write young adult novels, of course. Her first book, “Attachments,” was an adult novel. But these two latest books are better than that one, and coming-of-age storytelling seems to be a comfortable niche for her.
The following are some other books of local interest:
» “Out of the Black” by John Rector (Thomas & Mercer, $14.95 paperback, $9.95 digital): The Omaha mystery writer takes a dark road, leading his central character — a former Marine and widowed single father — through a labyrinth of double dealings, kidnapping, violence and revenge.
» “The Life & Poetry of Ted Kooser” by Mary K. Stillwell (University of Nebraska Press, $24.95): A small-town Nebraska boy has dreams of becoming a famous poet. Amazingly, Kooser accomplishes his goal, eventually receiving the Pulitzer Prize and serving as U.S. poet laureate. This isn't fiction. Stillwell, also a Nebraska writer, earned her doctorate in plains literature from UNL.
» “Fallen Angels” by Stillwell (Finishing Line Press, $14): Stillwell offers her own poetry in this collection based on an 1833 painting, “Les Anges Dechus.”
» “The Selected Letters of Willa Cather,” edited by Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout (Knopf, $37.50): Willa Cather was a habitual letter-writer. Friends, family, scholars, writers, editors and even world leaders were all recipients of her words. These letters range from sad to happy, playful to serious, businesslike to whimsical. Cather had asked in her will that her letters never be published, but these offerings give more insight into the writer than a biography.
» “Your High” by Andy Greenberg and Marian Shalander Kaiser (Tate Publishing, $12.99): The Omaha motivational speaker, whose “Your Daily High With Andy Greenberg” reaches at least 200 stations, offers the ideas from 80 of his best broadcasts in this paperback. His topics vary from marriage, success in life and vacations to food, holidays and being intelligent. All are quick reads and sure to make his audience laugh, sigh or remember when.
» “Wild Indians” by Bruce Woodhull (CreateSpace Independent Publishing, Amazon $10.52 paperback, 99 cents digital): The book is a sequel to “Omaha in the Time of Saints,” a novel about a 1960s crime family in Omaha, the Fraccacretas. The sequel takes the mob out of Omaha to battle other organized crime families in Denver, Milwaukee and Cleveland.
» “The Ledger” by Lloyd Holm (Jenkins Group Inc., $14.99 paperback, $2.99 digital): Holm, an Omaha physician, has written a historical novel about two enemy combatants who become friends during the historic World War I Christmas Eve cease fire in 1914. But the arrival of World War II threatens to destroy the bond between the soldiers' families.
» “Corporate America: 2041” by Jeffrey Lynn Hines (PublishAmerica, $22.46): In the year 2041, corporations have taken over running the U.S. government, and “For Profit” has replaced all patriotic slogans. The novel by this York, Neb., author follows one family as it tries to exist in this world and one man, Michael, as he decides to take a stand for freedom.
» “The Button Box: A Memoir” by Fredrick Zydek (CreateSpace, $19.76 paperback): The Nebraska author — who taught at UNL and the College of St. Mary before retiring — recounts discussions with his strong-willed, opinionated grandmother, Bertha Zydek, from their recorded conversations. She talks about the good times and the bad, people she liked and people she didn't care for. Every reader will probably find a familiar reminder of family.