Friday, November 22, 2013

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

I've actually been hearing about Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell ever since it came out this past February -- so much so, in fact, that I resisted reading it. But after reading Attachments, I knew I had to pick this one up.

When Park meets Eleanor, it's not exactly love at first sight. Park isn't one of the cool kids; he gets by by keeping his head down. Which is obviously not what Eleanor is doing when she gets on the bus the first day of school, all wild red hair and loud clothes. But there's an open seat next to Park, and when nobody else will let her sit down, Park ungraciously allows her to take the space. Over the next few weeks, Park notices that Eleanor is reading his comic books over his shoulder. The relationship progresses, and soon they are sharing mix tapes. Then they find that they are friends, and then, eventually, more than friends. But this is not as easy as it sounds -- Eleanor is a hard person to get close to, partly because she is hiding how truly dire her home life is from the rest of the world -- even from Park. Maybe even from herself.

The characters, oh, the characters in this book! The titular characters are great, of course, but the secondary characters are really fascinating and complex as well. I love Park's parents. Throughout the book, I could see them making parenting choices that were clearly in what they saw as Park's best interest, even when I (or Park) didn't agree with them. Eleanor's mother and stepfather, on the other hand -- what a pair! The stepfather is sleazy and terrifying, but the mother is the one I struggle with most -- not because she is poorly written, but because the writing is excellent and I have known people like this, which makes her all the more troubling. And throughout the story, I kept thinking, Park can't fix this -- but somebody needs to.

And so, even though I originally hesitated because I don't care for books set in the '80s, and because I don't love graphic novels or heavy metal, I find that I loved this book, and would recommend it . . . even if you don't think it sounds like your sort of thing.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

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