Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

I ordered Eleanor & Park after reading John Green’s review in the New York Times.  Apparently, I am easily persuaded by John Green and his nerdfighter powers.  And I had every intention of reading it immediately, as evidenced by its permanent place on my bed.  But the life of the teacher is not his or her own and the chaos of spring and the end of year kicked in and I really wasn’t reading much at all.  When I did crawl into bed after offering feedback on student work and grading, my brain was incapable of giving this story the attention it deserved.

So here we are in June.  The bottom line is that the book is amazing and everyone should read it.  I couldn’t put it down and ended up reading it in less than a day.  I was even tempted to take it with me when I took my dog for his morning walk.

The gist is that in 1986 Eleanor is a teenager who is just returning to her dysfunctional home after being kicked out by her mother’s substance abusing husband, who also happens to have a violent streak.  Adolescence is a treacherous path as it is without these added land mines.

Sometimes high schools sucks.  Ms. Rowell does justice to what it really feels like to be the new kid looking for a seat on the bus and all the other awkwardness that follows.  On top of that there are other elements that make Eleanor an outcast.  She doesn’t wear the right clothes, her physical appearance makes her stand out (and as far as she is concerned not in a good way).  I think at some point we have all experienced moments like Eleanor. She becomes an easy target and faces ridicule from her peers.

But for me what I think makes this book so special and what resonates is the authenticity from which Rowell writes.  When you have to keep other people’s secrets, especially those of a domestic nature, they also become your secrets.  Rowell’s portrayal of Eleanor’s internal struggle is spot on. #nailedit

Eleanor’s need or want to have something of her own is understandable, especially given the cramped quarters that she occupies.  Eleanor finds that something in Park.  I think that when you are subjected to those kinds of life circumstances you attempt to compartmentalize your life.  You have this great thing and you don’t want it spoiled by your home life.  But you can’t be totally vulnerable with the other person, because you fear they will reject you because of the secrets you have so closely guarded.  There are really only two outcomes here: either you don’t let the person in and the relationship dissolves (or implodes as the case may be) or you let them see the truth of your life (and who wants to risk that?).

The novel explores other teenage issues as well – from Eleanor’s body image to Park’s struggle with parental expectations and identity, which are equally important to explore.  I think many teenagers will connect to these characters and many adult readers will be taken back to their own past experiences (I know I was).

Towards the end, I thought that Ms. Rowell was going to crush my soul, but then in true Eleanor fashion came the unexpected.   I couldn’t even start a new book right away, because I needed to savor this story a little bit longer.

There are no gimmicks – no smoke and mirrors here – that might attract a fast movie deal.  Things don’t blow up, people don’t die, the end of the world as we know it is not at stake. But what the reader does get is writing that is just lush and beautiful.  Rainbow Rowell masterfully captures first love and all of its mysteries as well as the agony of adolescence.  Ms. Rowell transitions seamlessly between the two narrators.  It is a book I wish I could read again for the first time and one I have already started recommending to my former students.  This book was perfection.  It is by far my favorite YA book of the year.

I don’t think this entry even does this book justice.  Eleanor & Park You need to just read it.