Friday, March 28, 2014

Young Adult Fiction: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Because I enjoyed Fangirl so much, I decided to do a little backtracking with Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor & Park. This book actually took first place for Best Young Adult Fiction in the 2013 Goodreads Choice Awards, while Fangirl got second. I figured if the book not only beat out my beloved Fangirl for the top spot, and was written by the same author, then it had to be worth reading.

The Situation: Like most teenagers, Park is just trying to survive high school. Everyday he rides the bus to school and just keeps to himself, drowning out the kids in the back with his loud 80's punk rock blaring through his headphones while reading comic books. He knows how to keep unwanted attention away, and had been doing it pretty well, until Eleanor showed up. Big, awkward, badly dressed, fiery red headed Eleanor. As soon as she stepped on the bus, Park knew she would be an immediate outcast. And then, horror of horrors, she sat on the empty seat next to him. Common sense, as well as the social politics of high school, told him he shouldn't engage. But Park soon finds himself picking out comic books to bring on the bus that he thinks she'll like too, since she is clearly reading along with him, hoping he won't notice. Then he finds himself discussing music with her and bringing her mix tapes to listen to, and lending her his cassette player so she has something to listen to them with. Then he's holding her hand. Then the morning and afternoon bus rides are his favorite parts of the day.

The Problem: Sure, Eleanor is weird, but that isn't the whole story. She is only just now attending Park's school because she spent the last year or so living away from home, which includes her mom, her stepfather, one sister, two brothers, and one half-brother. Her abusive stepfather had kicked her out of the house and was just now okay with letting her back in. But that didn't mean her problems were over. Now she must do her best to become invisible when she's at home, and that skill would come in handy at school too, except she's too big and her hair is too red to escape the notice of the meanest school bullies. But then there is Park. The boy on the bus who lends her his comic books, who makes her cassette tapes, who holds her hand in public, who invites her over to his family's house. But then again, there is also Park. The boy she'll have to leave if things get too bad again at home. 

Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult novel set in the 1980s...something I somehow missed when I first picked it up. But the mention of cassette tapes and the fact that no one had a cell phone quickly clued me in. Neither Eleanor nor Park are the typical modern-day young adult fiction protagonists. Park is a half-Korean guy living in a suburb of Omaha, Nebraska who has been taking tae kwon do since he was a kid and is really into 80s rock...which to him would be just rock...since it is still the 80s. Eleanor is a bigger than average teenage girl with fiery and unruly red hair. She was never really allowed the luxury of being into anything like music or comic books, as she spends most of her time avoiding her stepfather and keeping both herself and her siblings out of harm's way. The book is very much about young love and how, honestly, it isn't supposed to last. There is even a brief discussion about William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet and how people love it and regard it as his best play, when it absolutely is not. The narrative style was disorienting at times as it switches back and forth between Eleanor and Park, but not in the first person, therefore making it really easy to forget who is the focus of a certain section. But even with the confusion, having the story switch focus between the two characters gives equal access to both of their worlds and to how they think.

My Verdict: This story is real. But not the annoying kind of real where the author just throws stuff out there for a reaction or for shock value. It is the kind of real that is indeed gritty and raw and sometimes hard to stomach, but it is also almost refreshing to read a story where the characters have real problems and issues and not everyone can be imagined as if they were on the CW network. These two aren't Romeo and Juliet, and that's a good thing. I personally am not a fan of Romeo & Juliet. Eleanor and Park are two real teenagers who found each other. I can't say I liked it as much as Fangirl, but I do see what all of the fuss was about.

Favorite Moment: When Eleanor was able to find help in the last place she ever thought she would find it.

Favorite Character: Park's Korean mother Mindy. She doesn't let either of her boys, Park or Josh, curse in the house, and she even gets mad at her husband when he does it. She also stands up to her husband for Park's sake when she thinks he isn't being fair. And although Mindy isn't sure about Eleanor at first, she does not shy away from admitting she was wrong and does what she can to make peace with her and her son.

Recommended Reading: Of course I am going to recommend Fangirl...what else would I possibly recommend in this situation?   

No comments: