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4 November 2013 ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell, St. Martin's Griffin, February 2013, 336p., ISBN: 978-1-250-01257-9


"Sing it loud so I can hear you

Make it easy to be near you

For the things you do endear you to me"

-- Lennon/McCartney, "I Will" from the White Album


"He was standing there in the half light, wearing a gray trench coat and black high-tops, and watching for her.

"She ran past the last few houses to get to him.  'Good morning,' she said, shoving him with both hands.

"He laughed and stepped back.  'Who are you?'

"'I'm your girlfriend,' she said.  'Ask anybody.'

"'No...my girlfriend is sad and quiet and keeps me up all night worrying about her.'

"'Bummer.  Sounds like you need a different girlfriend.'

"He smiled and shook his head.

"It was cold and half dark, and Eleanor could see Park's breath.  She resisted the urge to try to swallow it.

"'I told my mom that I was going to be at a friend's house after school...' she said.


"Park was the only person she knew who wore his backpack actually on his shoulders, not slung over one side -- and he was always holding onto the straps like he'd just jumped out of a plane or something.  It was extremely cute.  Especially when he was being shy and letting his head hang forward.

"She pulled the front of his bangs.  'Yeah.'

"'Cool,' he said, smiling, all shiny cheeks and full lips.

"Don't bite his face, Eleanor told herself.  It's disturbing and needy and never happens in situation comedies or movies that end with big kisses.

"'I'm sorry about yesterday,' she said.

"He hung on to his straps and shrugged.  'Yesterday happens.'

God, it was like he wanted her to eat his face clean off."


Unique and endearing characters whom you really come to know and love through their grit, their tenderness, and their innermost thoughts.  Absolutely great music. Exceptionally weird clothes.  Not just bullying, but shades of gray and back story relating to the bullying.  An abusive step-parent who is one of the foulest creatures you've ever met.  Consistently beautiful and honest writing. 


What is there not to love about ELEANOR & PARK?


Set in 1986, ELEANOR & PARK is a tale of first love between the oddly-attired, large, redheaded Eleanor, the new girl in town, and the skinny half-Korean Park, whose veteran father grew up in the 'hood here.


Eleanor has just returned from a year away from home, such as it was, having been kicked out of the family by her truly despicable, alcoholic stepfather.  (Yes, as you might well ask, where is her mom in permitting this to happen to an underage girl?  The mom is clearly a piece of work, too.) 


Now back "home," Eleanor, who is the eldest child, and her siblings, are all jammed into one small bedroom, at least until the stepfather deems her brother Ben too old to any longer share it with the girls.  Then Ben is consigned to sleep in the dark, soggy basement, despite his fear of it.  (Yes, as you might well ask, where is their mom in permitting this?)


In contrast, I so love Park’s mother.


Scene after scene here is set so well, and is consistently so moving, funny, scary, profound, horrifying, in large part because of our being provided those inner thoughts of the pair.


So, what is there not to love about ELEANOR & PARK?  


Well, what I am writing here is essentially Part II of what I wrote last week about Ms. Rowell's wonderful novel FANGIRL, which was also published this year.  Some parents in Minneapolis with whom I disagree as strongly as it is possible to disagree, put the kibosh on Ms. Rowell speaking to teens in their city.  Here, I'm going to copy and paste exactly what I wrote last week about FANGIRL and just change the name of the book:   


In one sense, this week's reading of ELEANOR & PARK has been the disconnect of the year for me.  Every time I've taken a break from reading it, I'd be sitting here trying to figure out how to bridge the gap between the notable tale in which I was emotionally immersed, and the headlines that have recently been bouncing around the listservs that I frequent:


"Minnesotans cancel Rainbow Rowell's book visit after parent complaints"


I've read the article and, all week, I've been reading this author's work that has had me feeling really happy and...I just so don't get it. 


There is wealth of insipid and profane young adult literature out there that is full of cardboard characters, devoid of literary merit, and lacking in respect for its readers.  It has its home in the choir and its enthusiastic audience.  And I spend a lot of time digging through it, like Indiana Jones hacking his way through a jungle, as I seek out the occasional YA treasure that still -- at the age of 58 -- moves and changes me as a human being with its brilliance and wisdom.  ELEANOR & PARK is one of the latter sort of books, and it is an absolute crime that young people in the Minneapolis area got screwed out of meeting this amazing writer thanks to somebody on a mission to save the world from the F-word.


Anyway, this exception book is already winning awards and I’ve finally gotten to read it. Now I'm looking around online for an ELEANOR & PARK tee-shirt.  I'm finding the one for John Green's FAULT IN OUR STARS, so I'm hopeful that this dynamic duo and their ill-fated first love will get a well-deserved comparable treatment.


Richie Partington, MLIS
Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.com
Moderator http://groups.yahoo.com/group/middle_school_lit/


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