Thursday, February 28, 2013

Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park
Rainbow Rowell
St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013
$18.99, Hardcover

Genre: Realistic, School Story, Romance
Age: 14+
Description: It is 1986—a year of great music (the Smiths) and awesome comic books (Watchman, Dark Knight). Park is the only half-Asian kid in Omaha and he’s not super popular but is accepted by the popular crowd, especially since the king of them all is his next door neighbor. The most embarrassing things he has to put up with are his mom who still can’t speak proper English and his dad who thinks he’s not manly enough and won’t let him get his license until he proves he can drive a stick shift. He doesn’t know his life will change the day that Eleanor, with her wild red hair and wacky outfits (ties at ponytail holders? Men’s shirts?) walks on the school bus and no one offers her a seat. Eleanor has just moved back in with her mom and her new stepfather, along with four younger siblings. Her stepfather kicked her out of the house more than a year ago and she’s been living with a neighbor ever since. However, they now have moved into a cramped little house where the bathroom is in the kitchen and it doesn’t even have a door on it. She’s forced to share a small room with only two bunk beds in it with her younger siblings and listen to her mother and stepfather arguing day and night. Eleanor hopes that she can just remain quiet and enter and leave the house when he’s not there as he seems to have it out for her. For days, she and Park sit on the bus in silence on their way to and from school. Eventually, Park feels bad for how rude he was on the first day she showed up and he notices her reading his comics over her shoulder. As an offer of silent peace, he scoots closer to her and allows her to read the comics with him. This small gesture eventually turns into letting her borrow stacks of comics and the making of mixed tapes. Before they know it their relationship—which at first seems to have nothing in common—grows as they begin to love each other. However, they have a lot to deal with. Park’s mother who, at first, thinks Eleanor is basically white trash. Eleanor’s low self-esteem which causes her to easily get angry at Park. Her stepfather who, if he finds out she’s seeing Park, will call her a whore and probably kick her out of the house again. When Eleanor discovers who is writing nasty sexual comments about her on her school textbooks, she knows she has to make a run for it to her uncle in Minnesota. Will she and Park ever be together?
Opinion: This is a moving story. The chapters are short and split the point of view between both Park and Eleanor. I will admit that I didn’t see the ending coming (though I probably should have). This is one of those realistic fiction books that really doesn’t have anything happen for most of it. We are just observers in the lives of two very different teens who come together to discover a mutual love for each other. While nothing really happens for most of the book the pacing is fast. Everyone knows someone like Eleanor or Park. The only downside is that the book takes place in Omaha (which is where I live) and it really isn’t clearly stated so some of the references other teens who have never even heard of Omaha will have no idea what is being talked about. The fact that the book is also set in the 1980s means a number of dated pop culture references occur which might also confuse readers who aren’t familiar with comics or music of the decade. Overall, this is an excellent love story about the excitement of first love and how no matter how much you want it to last those first loves rarely ever do. 

Here is what some of my teens had to say:

Katie, 14, says, “Everyone remembers their first love. In Eleanor & Park, readers will meet two teens who have nothing in common but music, comic books, and feeling left out, all which leads to a swoon-over romantic tale. I think the cover is perfect. It is simple but I think it really wraps up the whole story. Seriously I can’t find one most compelling thing about the book because EVERYTHING about the book was compelling. So, obviously, if everything was compelling, there was nothing I was disappointed with. I even demanded that my friend, Becca, read this book as her next YA Galley choice.”

Sarah, 15, says, “This book is a heartwarming love story about two high schoolers who fall in love. They learn to love each other despite people making fun of them for various reasons (Park being the only Asian in his town and Eleanor for not being a stick figure thin girl). Eleanor is back living at home after being kicked out more than a year ago by her stepfather. As she adjusts to a new school, Park befriends her despite everyone else taking an instant dislike toward her weight and her personal style and the two find themselves falling in love. I like how the cover has Eleanor and Park’s backs to the reader and their headphones are intertwined (since shared music was a big thing that brought them together in the story). I love that Eleanor’s hair is long, red, and curly just like in the book. I feel it reflected the contents well. The most compelling aspect was when Eleanor finds out that it is her stepdad, Richie, and not the mean popular girl, who has been writing crude and inappropriate sexual comments on her school textbooks and she decides to run away to her family in Minnesota. While part of me loved the ending, there was also a part of me who felt kind of betrayed by the author when she didn’t tell me what became of Eleanor and Park. Did they end up together? I figure that it is implied that Eleanor finally opened all the packages from Park when she was ready and sent him the postcard. I do have to admit that when it said it was just “three words” I was like, “What? He sent her all that stuff and all she sends him was a postcard?” My advisor read the book along with me so we could talk about it and I asked her what those three words could have been and she said, “I assume they were ‘I love you’.” I was like, “Doh! I am such a dork. How did I not see that!” So that made the ending better once I realized I am clearly clueless and need to pay better attention! I am glad that Eleanor finally told Park she loved him. That’s why part of me likes the ending—because one hopes that Eleanor and Park will end up together. I also enjoyed that the setting was in Omaha. I clearly didn’t read the back of the book (I thought it was all quotes from other authors and missed the tiny book blurb) and failed to realize that the book was taking place in 1986. After I realized that it made much more sense as I was like man their music tastes are old and about Park’s car having a huge backseat (I was like I’ve never seen a car that you can lie down in!). Since I live in Omaha, I have half a mind to hunt Rainbow Rowell down and find out what became of Eleanor and Park! I will find out! : )

Becca, 13, says, “Eleanor and Park is a great book about young love and overcoming troubles and some very adult problems. I could hardly put it down! I like the headphones on the cover, but I don’t think Eleanor’s hair is red enough. Other than that I think the cover was simple and reflected the contents inside really well. The most compelling part of this story was how music brought them together. I was most disappointed by the fact that we didn’t get to know which three words Eleanor finally sent to Park. That is kind of disappointing but I can guess (“I love you”). I loved this book!”

Kayla, 13, says, “Rowell has written a fantastic, real, flawed romance novel in Eleanor & Park. It isn’t the typical teen romance with a girl trapped between the attention of two boys (with or without supernatural powers). Instead it is an honest portrayal at a real love that readers will have trouble putting down! I believe the cover fit the book amazingly! It revealed and gave us a better feel for the already well-explained characters and fit the aspect of the book perfectly. The most compelling part would have to be the lives the characters endured. How they still found love despite the touch, scary, and disappointing events in their lives. I am not a romantic junkie. In fact, I don’t like romance at all and hardly read anything that could be considered a romantic book. But this novel really got to me and I really enjoyed it. The characters weren’t predictable like in most romances. Rowell made them lively and smart, beautiful yet nerdy at the same time. I also found multiple references to fandoms that I am in myself and because of this I know many other teens will enjoy it too. I highly recommend this book for everyone!”
*Thanks to Talia Sherer at St. Martin’s Griffin for providing an ARC of this title for the YA Galley Group project!*

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