So this book talks about love. It also talks about standing up to bullies and covers a good chunk of comic book lore. Oh yeah, and someone becomes the victim of a nice roundhouse kick that should bring applause. What type of book would cover all this? The answer is Rainbow Rowell’s delightful “Eleanor & Park,” which just won the top award on GoodReads.com’s list, “2013 Best Young Adult Fiction Books.”While the language is a little inappropriate for this blog’s younger readers, I give this book my highest possible recommendation to older teens and adults.
Park is like many other guys I’ve known in that he’s likable, but he’s not part of the “in” crowd. He’s half-Korean living in Nebraska, and he definitely stands out. And when an awkwardly dressed girl with crazy, bright red hair gets on the bus, he’s not exactly thrilled to share his seat with her. However, what starts as a bare toleration turns into an exchange of comics and 80s alternative mix-tapes, leading into an intense first love. And this isn’t the “they fell in love and lived happily ever after” kind of drama-free love. Instead, we get a much more honest, intense first love that grabs you even if you resist, that makes it hard to breathe or think, and that has almost as many downs as ups.
The ways Eleanor and Park connect, and the ways in which Rainbow Rowell ties that connection to 80s pop culture, is truly spectacular. For example, when discussing Star Wars, Eleanor states that she doesn’t want to be the typical Princess Leia to be rescued. From Park’s perspective, Rowell writes “You can be Han Solo…and I’ll be Boba Fett. I’ll cross the sky for you.” Amazing stuff, Ms. Rowell. Thank you. And comic lovers will appreciate the conversation in which Eleanor argues how sexist the X-Men are…classic nerdiness at its finest.
As I said, this book has some downs, too. Eleanor comes from a very poor family and has a difficult situation with her stepdad, and it’s pretty painful to read at times. She doesn’t want Park to know about this part of her life, leading into all sorts of conflicts. Much like many teenagers, both protagonists are also affected by bullying and head games at school. On the plus side, one conflict taught me what a jump reverse hook is (although if I tried it, I would probably just sprain something critical).
While some parts can be pretty depressing, this book was a very uplifting read for me. Please go out and immerse yourself in this highest possible recommendation. Also, enjoy the holiday season and have a great start to the new year. I’m going to go shake my presents to see if I can hear any Legos rattling around…