If you’ve never heard of author Rainbow Rowell, you are missing out. But if you’ve never even heard of her book, Eleanor & Park, you have not lived!
Alright. Maybe that was a bit melodramatic. But Rowell’s writing is so exquisite that it’s one of the few YA novels I can heartily recommend to ANYONE.
And if you don’t believe me, surely you’d believe John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars. Yup, that’s right! You can read Green’s personal review in the NY Times here.
Now, what precisely makes this book so exquisite?
I’d sum it up in three major points:
(1) Rowell’s portrayal of teenage emotions goes deeper than most YA books I’ve come across. Her characters are no “star-struck love birds” that make you want to roll your eyes as you remind yourself it was a book written for teenagers. Rowell doesn’t portray Eleanor as an unrealistic angelic-like being who despite hardship (and boy has she gone through some shit), somehow magically manages to remain sweet and loving to those around her.
Eleanor lives in surprising poverty (she can’t even afford a toothbrush) with a mother willingly stuck in victim-mentality-mode and an alcoholic stepfather who gives new depth to the concept of “control-freak-asshole.” And guess what? Eleanor has to learn to survive on her own as best she can. Regrettably, this means that she must be a bit selfish as she realizes that she can’t save/help her other siblings. Because sadly, she doesn’t even know if she can save herself.
And thankfully, Park doesn’t fall into the typical cliches of being either “Mr. Perfect” or “Bad-boy-who-deep-down-inside-is-really-just-looking-for-love.” Bleh. Thank the gods for restraining Rowell from falling into either one of those pits. Park is a sweet and patient guy, but sometimes he can be shallow just like any other teenager. At first feeling good about himself for showing kindness to Eleanor, the brunt of bully jokes, he ultimately realizes he cares more about public opinion than he thought.
(2) Rowell’s portrayal of a severely abused teenage girl is truthful, yet not entirely disheartening. I’ve read plenty of YA novels that portray abused girls as if they were doomed from the start. Rowell doesn’t sugar coat Eleanor’s situation, but she always leaves hope by subtly implying that any human who is shown a little love and compassion can begin their journey toward healing. I can read this book and empathize with Eleanor’s pain, but I’m not dragged into the depths of despond while I’m at it. Thank you, Rowell, for that!
(3) Eleanor’s awesome interpretation of Romeo and Juliet. Because come on, that was seriously the best part of the book! As Rowell wrote, and I quote…
” “No . . .” she (Eleanor) said. “I just don’t think it’s a tragedy.”
“It’s the tragedy,” Mr. Stessman said.
She rolled her eyes. She was wearing two or three necklaces, old fake pearls, like Park’s grandmother wore to church, and she twisted them while she talked. “But he’s so obviously making fun of them,” she said.
“Do tell . . .”
She rolled her eyes again. She knew Mr. Stessman’s game by now. “Romeo and Juliet are just two rich kids who’ve always gotten every little thing they want. And now, they think they want each other.”
“They’re in love . . .” Mr. Stessman said, clutching his heart.
“They don’t even know each other,” she said.
“It was love at first sight.”
“It was ‘Oh my God, he’s so cute’ at first sight. If Shakespeare wanted you to believe they were in love, he wouldn’t tell you in almost the very first scene that Romeo was hung up on Rosaline. . . . It’s Shakespeare making fun of love,” she said. “
How’s that for a breath of fresh air when it comes to analyzing Shakepeare, eh? I tell you, people…Rowell’s writing is simply scintillating!
And that, fellow book addicts, is why you simply MUST get a copy of this book. 😀
So far there have been three different cover designs, and pretty much any one of these will do. I think they’re all lovely. The first one just came out in the US, and I believe the second one is the UK version. Not sure about the third one, though.
Which one do you like best?