Monday, January 12, 2015

Eleanor & Park - Rainbow Rowell

Consider me having joined the legions of fans that have read this book and fallen hard for the two characters that collide in the tumultuous chaos of the school bus and are brought together by the creed that one is a 'bully, a lackey, or one of the nameless rabble'. Band together for survival!

Eleanor is new to the neighborhood. She's just been allowed to return to her family , after being kicked out by her stepfather. Her mother and brothers and sister are cowed by the verbal and physical abuse that her step father metes out. Her family is in crisis and they don't even seem able to help themselves. Eleanor's walking on eggs. To boot, she's the red-headed carrot top with more pounds on her than is stylish for the high school mean girl set. Her wild sense of style comes from a combination of defense mechanism thinking, thrift store chic, and teenage rebellion. She's a great target for all the crap that bullies can hand out.

Park is a 'put your head down and survive' kinda guy. He's the one Korean kid in a sea of heartland white bread highschoolers. He survives the chaos of high school by choosing a small group of friends, keeping a low profile, submersing himself in the punk and alternative music of the 80's and staying close to home. His home, in a hard scrabble neighborhood outside Omaha, is 'an oasis', as his family is intact and relatively happy. His parents love and respect each other. His grandparents live right next door. The family is involved with each other and watches out for each other. Life's not all roses for Park, though. His relationship with his ex-military man Dad is tough. His Dad's expectations of Park sometimes make him feel inferior and he struggles with his own teenage rebellious feelings when his Dad puts down his music, his sense of style, his sensitivity, and his apparent inability to learn to drive using a stick shift.

School could be a refuge for Eleanor, but when she steps on the school bus on the first day back with her family, she's greeted by a teen clic culture that has the potential to push her over the edge. And it's then, that Park, looking sideways, slides his backpack out of the way and mutters for her to 'just sit down'. From then on, the voyage to and from school becomes the petri dish for a growing relationship that is so endearing and addicting to read ...

Rainbow Rowell write in short bullets that alternate back and forth between Eleanor's and Park's point of view. Their feelings unfold in bits and starts until they finally befriend each other over the comic books and music that Park shares with Eleanor. Opening up to each other, each cautiously peels back the protective layers that have insulated them from the rough world of teenage culture. It's a tale of love, sacrifice, survival, and hope.

Yes, the language is a raunchy at times (like it is in real life, sometimes). Yes, there are tough issues (like there are in life for far too many young people). Yes, sex is a huge part of the undercurrent of the story (like it is in the minds and hearts of 99.9 % of the teenage world). And yes, Rainbow Rowell deals with all these elements of teenage life really well.

It's no wonder to me that this book has garnered its share of awards - the 2013 Boston Globe Horn Book Award, the 2014 Michael L. Printz Honor Award for YA Fiction, as well spots on the lists of best books of 2013 and 2014 that  the NYT, Publisher's Weekly, NPR, and Kirkus Reviews compile.

Whatever she's doing, she's doing it right. The book's movie rights have been purchased and she will be writing the screenplay for the film adaption, plus she's released her newest novel called Landline, plus she's signed on to produce two graphic novels in the next couple years.

Busy lady !!

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