Rainbow Rowell has been really big in my reading circles of late, especially with a new book coming out soon and a movie in the works. And in fact I first heard about her from a trusted blogger back when Attachments came out, but at that time I was like, eh, chick-lit stuff, whatevs. Relationshippy books are not really my thing.
But when I decided to actually pick up this book and read it, I had managed to completely forget that I had ever heard anything about it, and it wasn’t until I had already fallen in love with the book on page, like, one, that I remembered. Oh, well, too late, let me just read this thing straight through to the end!
And it is SO GOOD. So good. The story takes place way back in 1999, with Y2K on the horizon and email just being introduced to the newspaper in what I’m pretty sure is Omaha, though I’m not sure it’s ever explicitly stated (big city in Nebraska, Rowell’s from Omaha, 2+2, etc.). Our hero, Lincoln, is hired by the newspaper company to read through the emails that get caught by the web filter, figure out if anyone’s breaking any rules, and then send warnings as necessary. Easy money, yes? Except there are two employees, Beth and Jennifer, whose messages to each other, at least the ones that get caught in the filter, are so entertaining that Lincoln can’t bring himself to send them any warnings, let alone stop reading their emails. It’s bad enough when he starts having a little crush on one of the emailers, but when he finds out that he might be exactly her type, things get very complicated indeed.
On the one hand, this story is absolutely adorable. Boy meets girl, girl doesn’t know boy exists, boy tries to figure out way to meet girl that’s not completely creepy. Age-old love story, obviously. And Lincoln is super relatable to probably a lot of current twenty-somethings — he’s a perpetual student who’s finally trying to get a real job but finds himself living with his mother, taking a low-skilled IT job, and generally falling into complacency. Beth and Jennifer are also great; their conversations remind me a lot of the posts of my favorite bloggers from that turn-of-the-century blogging era.
But they are not bloggers, they are private people writing private emails, and when you step out of the share-everything mentality of 2014 (she said, on her blog, which posts directly to Facebook) it is really actually very creepy that Lincoln is reading their conversations. And Rowell totally acknowledges that; Lincoln knows early on he’s being not at all ethical and later confides in a friend who reassures him that he is the creepiest creeper who ever did creep. The big dilemma of the book is less about “will he get the girl” and more about “will he give up the girl to do the right thing”, and I honestly was not sure which side of that I wanted to have happen. Such a good guy! Such a terrible situation! Augh!
Rowell handles this disparity between meet-cute and meet-creepy really really well, and she spends enough time letting us get to know all three of our main characters that I knew no matter how it ended that everything was going to be okay for them, if not for me and my emotions. Oh, so many emotions. I maaaaay have to rethink my reflexive dismissal of chick-lit-y things, perhaps?
Recommendation: For fans of hopeless romance and movies like You’ve Got Mail (my favorite from Nora Ephron).