Monday, January 6, 2014

Book Review: Eleanor & Park

A New York Times bestseller, there's been a lot of buzz about this book, Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell. I put a hold on it a long time ago and waited for my turn on the hold list. I picked it up on a day when I was at the library for my young adult literature book club and the leaders of that group both looked at me with a longing look of jealousy for the chance to be just starting the book for the first time. It is that kind of book.

I should say, though, that I almost set it aside at the beginning because of the pervasive foul language. Describing a scene on the school bus, the first five pages must have dropped the f-bomb almost a dozen times (I counted - nine!), plus the s-word (4) and the d- and b-words once each. If this was how the whole book was going to go, then I could do without a noteworthy read. Still, I'm willing to pass over the language for a good story, so I persevered. It was a bit awkward when my youngest came to lie with me in bed, when I was reading, and, looking over my shoulder, read not one but two or three curse words and ran with glee to tell his brother that I was reading a book with bad words in it. Then, Trevor had to try to come and grab the book away from me so that he could catch a glimpse as well. Not the best scene to play out in my room.

I can't say that I enjoyed it as resoundingly as everyone else, but it was a good read and definitely well-written. The author manages to create a believable, achingly-sad love story between two memorably vivid characters. Eleanor and Park are misfits - an Asian boy and a chunky girl with flaming red hair. Not your expected combination. But their romance develops slowly over the pages of the book and the reader can't help but be sucked into their vortex of inevitable heartbreak.

When Eleanor's clothes are stolen during gym and flushed down the toilet, all the way down to her new jeans and her favorite Vans, I wanted to cry for her. Teens can be so cruel and this book is full of realistic assessments of their vicious tendency to pick on and attack those who are different or unique. When her mother chooses to side with her step-father instead of defending her daughter, I wanted to shake the woman and make her see what a schmuck she was embracing. The characters felt like they had just walked into my life and I wanted to make things better for them.

I can see why this book has taken the young adult readers by storm. Who doesn't love an achingly-real love story? Who doesn't love a book where you want to take the characters home and make them a cup of hot soup and tell them that everything will turn out in the end, when you know full well, it probably won't. It was definitely worth the read and I enjoyed it, just perhaps not quite as much as everyone else.


Jennifer Atkinson said...

Interesting! I might have to put my name on the hold list for this at our library. I liked your description of the boys delighting in "catching" you reading this one. :)

Hope y'all are staying warm and dry!

Wendy said...

Jen - yes, they become CSI agents when they think bad words are in a book. Hope you enjoy the book.