Recommended Reading: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

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Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
After reading and reviewing Fangirl for IGGPPC, I made sure to get Eleanor & Park on my next trip to the library. It felt like I kept hearing about it, whispers across twitter and tumblr, little comments here and there, and I didn’t waste any time in getting it–or in reading it. I finished the book in seven hours, starting it after coming back from the library and finishing around one-thirty in the morning. It’s not often I get to have book marathons like that anymore, and I’m glad I could with this one.

Eleanor & Park is a tougher, grittier read. While there were some non-boy issues in Fangirl that were serious, something about them didn’t hit me as hard as the ones in Eleanor & Park. Eleanor’s family life really dug into me, maybe because I want everyone to have a family like mine, and I know that not everyone does, and Eleanor is such a reminder of that. With an abusive stepfather, a mother who’s kind of checked out (I’m sure a whole book could be written around her mom’s struggles too), and bullies* from the moment she steps on the school bus, I just want to be Eleanor’s best friend and protect. But I guess if I can’t, I’m fine with the ones Rainbow Rowell provided her with in the book.

Park is kind of funny, because he has his own problems–being one of just a few Asian students at school and the son of a military man–but they don’t strike me as strongly as Eleanor’s. It’s not that they aren’t tough; they certainly are. I feel for him. I get super aggravated reading his dad berate him because Park isn’t just like his brother, Josh, and has trouble learning how to drive a stick shift (which I wholly sympathize with). But my stomach doesn’t knot when he goes home each day from school. I don’t worry about those hours between getting off the bus and getting back on it in the morning like I do with Eleanor.

I think I have a weakness for books that remind me of myself in some ways. Eleanor and Park both have traits that make them cool to me, and then I realize that’s because they’re traits that I have, even if they aren’t all positive. Tastes in music, love for comic books, even self-conscious thoughts are all pieces of myself that I saw in the novel. (Although I don’t understand Eleanor’s dislike for punk music–clearly that’s where Park and I mesh more.) Reading a book that mirrors pieces of myself makes it easier for me to connect with, and it’s always something I appreciate.

Not surprisingly, I found myself getting pretty frustrated with Eleanor at times. I understand when self-conscious, anxious characters have trouble helping themselves, both because it’s realistic and because it drives plot, but that doesn’t mean that I take it lying down. More than once I found myself shouting, “Eleanor, what are you doing?!” in my head. But when I have a response like that to a character, I know the author’s done well presenting me with someone I care about despite (or because of) their imperfections.

I had only a minor complaint, if it can be called that, when I reviewed Fangirl, and similarly I only have one issue with this as well: I really wanted more of Eleanor’s friends, DeNice and Beebi. They were consistent rays of sunshine in the novel.

It’s not often that a book makes me cry, but I’ll totally admit that this one did through the entire last chapter or two.

*Few things get my goat quite like bullies. They piss me off so hard. When they talk about zero tolerance, they’re really talking about me; I don’t have time for people disrespecting other people because they’re new, redheaded, chubby, gay, whatever. *deep breaths*

December 10, 2013
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