Thursday, July 10, 2014

"Eleanor and Park" by Rainbow Rowell


I've been in a non-horror, non-fantasy, young adult phase lately -- if you want to call two books a phase. "The Fault in Our Stars" is on my list to read this summer, since that's this season's "The Davinci Code." You know, where everyone has read it, it's been made into a movie, and people can't get enough of it? Except for me. I haven't read it...

I'm sure "The Fault in Our Stars" is lovely, but sometimes I avoid certain popular culture trends because so many people are following it. Yes, it's nice to be a part of the conversation, but at the same time, I just want to read what I want to read, and not because it's the "it" book of the moment.

So, here I am, with last year's hit. No wonder it was so easy to get from the library.

In "Eleanor and Park," we are introduced to two characters, both come complete with their own chapters. Rowell hops back and forth between Eleanor and Park, and it's interesting throughout the entire novel seeing certain scenes from two different angles.

At first, Eleanor and Park dislike each other, all for unknown, teen-angst, reasons. Then, they connect over some of Park's comics. He realizes that Eleanor is reading them with him, so he doesn't turn the page until he knows she's done reading. After that, he starts to lend "Watchmen" to her so she can read them at home.

That's when their relationship starts to buzz.

Rowell has captured, so perfectly, what it's like for two teenagers to fall in love for the first time while they are still reeling from their awkward adolescence. It's exciting and nervous. It's new and frustrating. They both don't know what to say or how to act, and when they try, someone's feelings get hurt. And the voices each has about the relationship is endearing. At that exact moment in their lives, it is what's getting them through. They hate Saturdays, and they swoon on Sundays knowing they'll be next to each other on the bus Monday morning.

What's wrong is the stark differences between their different home lives. Park is half-Korean and has two very caring parents and a younger brother. He seems to be living what seems to be a "normal" life in the 80's. Eleanor, on the other hand, lives in a mess of a house with three younger siblings, all who stay together at night to keep away from their drunk and angry stepfather. Rowell does a superb job describing Eleanor's home life, of what it must be like to live in a house that turns into a dictatorship the minute the "man of the house" walks through the door. Rowell also doesn't hang up too much on it. Her home life is the driving force that takes the book to it's climax, but Eleanor doesn't play a victim. She's a strong young woman. I would hope people in her situation can read this book and also be inspired by her bravery.

Allusions to "Romeo and Juliet" are dropped during Eleanor and Park's English class, but Eleanor calls Shakespeare out on it, and states that it can't be love. That their romance was based on a small lie. She's not convinced, but Rowell turns around and makes sure Eleanor gets a healthy dose of it from Park.

Rowell's description of Eleanor and Park's relationship is completely on cue, but she adds comics and music to help tell the story -- pop culture that I actually understood. There are times when I read a Stephen King book, and although I am obviously not of his generation, I do not get his rock n' roll references.

Rowell may be a young adult novel, but really -- it's a novel about young adults -- which means any regular adult can pick this book up and enjoy is just as much.