Monday, November 17, 2014

Mini-review: Eleanor & Park

This is a book I read several months ago, but due to a conversation with a colleague I realized I had never reviewed it and that I probably should.  

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Title:  Eleanor & Park

Author:  Rainbow Rowell

Published:  2012

Year I read it:  2014

One sentence summary:  This 1980's, YA, Romance isn't what you'd expect; it's about red-headed, socially awkward, physically and emotionally impoverished Eleanor and half-American, half-Korean, cool-kid Park - two different "outsiders" who discover that true love means becoming "insiders" of something beautiful.

Interesting fact:  Though it won critical acclaim and awards like Amazon's Teen Book of the Year, Amazon's Top Ten Book of the Year, and Goodreads Choice Award for Best Young Adult Book of the Year, the novel was censored in some American high schools. NPR addressed this in their pop-culture blog, saying, ""What's worrying about treating Eleanor & Park as a nasty book, or a dirty book, or an immoral book, is that it transforms talking about how to survive ugliness into something that's no different from ugliness itself. It makes the act of telling a story about rising above misery a miserable thing."

Three reasons to read it:
  • This book feels like John Green (The Fault in Our Stars, Looking for Alaska) and Stephen Chbosky (Perks of Being a Wallflower) had a sister and she wrote a high-school romance set in 1980's Nebraska.  I say this because she captures the interiority of adolescence beautifully, aware of the dark, but not overwhelmed by it.  Alternating between Eleanor & Park as narrators, she carefully and graciously uncovers the different ways we suffer pain - be it poverty, racism, abuse, or bullying.  It is a profound book. 
  • I read this book in one sitting.  It's that compelling.
  • I hadn't read a true Romance for a while - a book about falling in love.  Romance was usually incidental to the fantasy adventure or contemporary novel I was reading.  But Rowell does an incredibly job recounting what it's like to fall in love for the first time.  She takes a few pages just to convey the sensation of what it's like to first hold someone's hand.  It may sound sappy, but it is a breathtaking story of what love is like.

One reason you maybe shouldn't:
  • The story does get dark.  There is mature language in an abusive context, which could definitely be a trigger to some.
Great quotes:
Eleanor was right. She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn't supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.

Holding Eleanor's hand was like holding a butterfly. Or a heartbeat. Like holding something complete, and completely alive.

“I want everyone to meet you. You're my favorite person of all time.” 
I don't like you, Park," she said, sounding for a second like she actually meant it. "I..." - her voice nearly disappeared - "think I live for you."  He closed his eyes and pressed his head back into his pillow.  "I don't think I even breathe when we're not together," she whispered. "Which means, when I see you on Monday morning, it's been like sixty hours since I've taken a breath. That's probably why I'm so crabby, and why I snap at you. All I do when we're apart is think about you, and all I do when we're together is panic. Because every second feels so important. And because I'm so out of control, I can't help myself. I'm not even mine anymore, I'm yours, and what if you decide that you don't want me? How could you want me like I want you?" He was quiet. He wanted everything she'd just said to be the last thing he heard. He wanted to fall asleep with 'I want you' in his ears. 
“Nothing before you counts," he said. "And I can't even imagine an after." 

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