Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Book Review: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Let me just say that I don't read teen romances...anymore.  Unlike fantasy or mystery or historical fiction, teen romances tend to appeal only to teens, or maybe I'm just a jaded, middle-aged librarian!  I mean when I was a teen, I read romances all the time and loved them--if you haven't read  Mrs. Mike, a classic first published in 1947, you are missing out on some serious, sob-inducing romantic tragedy.  But several friends, whose taste in books I trust implicitly, recommended Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, and I was happy to find that a good teen romance knows no age limits!

Eleanor (out of control curly red hair, on the heavy side, not-hip thrift store clothes) and Park (half-Korean, on the skinny side, likes to wear eyeliner) are the very definition of "opposites attract".  It's Omaha, Nebraska in the mid 80's, and it all begins one morning on the bus.  In a way, the bus is like a microcosm of teenage life; there aren't assigned seats but no one would sit in someone else's spot, uncool freshmen in the front, hip seniors in the back, bullies of both sexes defending their power and the status quo, and the gossip network ensures that what happens on the bus definitely DOESN'T stay on the bus.  Due to a home life that defies description (crappy isn't strong enough), Eleanor is starting at a new school midway through the year and of course, no one wants to give her the empty seat next to them.  In fact, Park tries to fill his with books and a backpack but Eleanor squeezes herself on the very edge.  They ignore each other for days, weeks even, until he realizes that she is reading his comics over his shoulder.  Besides all the references to 80's styles and music, what I love most about this book is how slowly the romance develops, and how much time the characters spend thinking agonizing about each other, what they've said to each other, what others are saying about them, and how they feel anyway.  Published in 2013, this book has been winning awards all year, and this week, was listed as an Honor Book for the Printz prize (best teen books).  Don't be discouraged by the waiting list, it'll be worth it!

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