Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Wonder for Teens?

Funny, hopeful, foulmouthed, sexy and tear-jerking, this winning romance will captivate teen and adult readers alike. (Fiction. 14 & up) Kirkus Reviews

 Pretty much says it all ...

Last week I had the pleasure of reading Eleanor and Park: a novel by Rainbow Rowell. A few things I wasn't so crazy about, but there was so much I liked about this book: the depth of the main characters, the tone of the alternating third person narrative, the realism of the family dynamics, the exploration of teen relationships, and just the whole way these two misfits fell in love. Their story had me engaged and rooting for them right from the start.

A Young Adult Romance / Realistic Fiction, Eleanor and Park is not your typical romance novel. Everything is just sort of off in this book. For starters, the characters are nothing like the expected knockout couple that usually star in a teen romance. Eleanor and Park features a heavy-set red-haired girl (Eleanor) and a Korean-American boy (Park). The setting is not New York, Beverley Hills, or some East Coast beach town. It takes place in Omaha, Nebraska! I shouldn't judge. I have never been to Omaha, but I haven't seen it featured in too many romances either. And the main characters are far from popular kids who come from wealthy families. It's the gritty realism employed by the author that makes the book so impressionable. Much of what happens throughout the novel is not pretty nor nice. But the relationship that grows between Eleanor and Park is really very beautiful. And it is how Rowell  develops this first love that I found unique and compelling.

One issue that I have with Eleanor and Park is the language. There is bad language - and a lot of it. Now don't get me wrong. I can handle the language easily enough. It's just that I would love to share this story and the language creates a problem. I would never be able to purchase this book for my school library. And that's unfortunate, for Eleanor and Park was something like a 14A version of Wonder for me. There are a whole pile of Choose Kind initiatives that could be applied to this novel - if only a PG13 edition was available!

Set in 1986, Eleanor and Park uses many cultural references that transport the reader back to the late eighties. I enjoyed these reminders of that decade. However, one term seemed abruptly anachronistic - "Asian." As I mentioned, I have never been to Omaha, but unless the residents there were more advanced than most North Americans, they would not be using the term "Asians" in 1986. "Oriental" was what was used in my part of the world. I think this may have been an oversight, for if Rowell was conscious of being politically correct then she should have paid more attention to constantly spelling out Park's mother's (Korean-American) dialogue in a phonetic fashion. This is just a minor point, but worth mentioning, as it didn't fit with the realness of the story.

When I first finished Eleanor and Park, the ending was a real disappointment for me . But after thinking about it for awhile, I was able to reconcile some issues and see it a little more open-ended. Maybe more hopeful than I had at first thought. It would be great to hear from people who have read the book and see what their interpretation of the ending was.

Not just for girls. And not just for teens. Eleanor and Park is a reminder that not everyone has the same advantages and blessings, but that everyone deserves to fall in love.

Rowell, Rainbow. Eleanor and Park. St. Martin's Griffin, 2013.


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