Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
ISBN: 978-1250012579

I decided to read this book after a friend of mind posted a comment to the effect it was the most romantic book she’d ever read.

I don’t read romance as a genre (it’s not my thing) and generally don’t go for the sweeping romance — and neither does this friend, so her recommendation carried weight. It’s not that I’m anti-romance; I can appreciate when it is there, I just tend not to go looking for it. I am not unhappy to find it when done well (The Passion, The Night Circus).

Eleanor & Park is set back in the 80s, when mixed tapes ruled the day. Rowell has a keen sense for the complete awfulness of teenage years: the uncertainty within oneself, the ruthless behavior of everyone else at school, the pecularities of family, the sense of urgency growing with each heartbeat. It makes for engaging, some times difficult reading.

Why difficult? Because Eleanor’s circumstances are almost beyond words painful. Her mother has remarried, they are desperately poor, her stepfather is an abusive asshole, her biological father is tuned out, and she has several much younger siblings. (The tragedy almost plots itself, though Rowell wisely doesn’t follow the most expected path.) Park’s circumstances are great only in comparison, it would seem, with Eleanor’s. He loves comics, music, and despite himself, Eleanor.

It is the most romantic book I’ve ever read? No, but it was good. It was real, and it didn’t read like a movie script or after school tv special — territory it easily could have veered into. Instead Eleanor and Park remained real to each other, and so real to me as a reader.

I might check out other of Rowell’s books; she seems to be on a bit of a roll right now with Fangirl and now Landline. I think arguments about adults reading YA are ridiculous, we should all be reading good stories, no matter what marketing they are dressed up in. Rowell’s story is a good one.

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