Wednesday 27 March 2013

#CBR5 Book 32. "Eleanor and Park" by Rainbow Rowell

Page count: 336 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

The year is 1986. Park doesn't fit in amongst the other kids in high school or in his own family. While both he and his brother are half Korean, you wouldn't know it to look at his already taller younger brother. Park listens to Joy Division, The Smiths and The Cure, and reads comic books reverently. He feels like he can never quite measure up to the expectations of his very manly father. He's not exactly popular, but he's not a complete outcast either.

Not like the new girl, Eleanor, who is chubby, with bright red hair, and dresses in strange combinations of goodwill clothes. Quickly gaining nicknames like "Bozo" and "Big Red", it's clear that Eleanor won't be winning any popularity contests, and Park isn't thrilled when she ends up sitting next to him on the school bus, and keeps showing up in his honours' classes. Slowly, but surely, a friendship blossoms, as Eleanor starts reading Park's comic books over his shoulder. Soon Park is silently lending her comics, and this leads to conversations, and further topics of conversations and mix tapes and soon, Park and Eleanor live for the moments when they see each other again on the bus or in class.

For Eleanor, the escape she finds in Park's comic books and the mix tapes is all that's keeping her going. Her home life is one of constant tension, sharing a tiny room with hardly any siblings. Her stepfather is prone to drink and violence, and has her mother and younger siblings cowering. Eleanor occasionally wonders if she should ask the well-meaning guidance counselor at school for a toothbrush, but knows that bringing any kind of unwanted attention to her home life is only going to end in misery. Having already been thrown out of the house once, living away from her siblings for nearly a year, she's desperate just to keep her head down and stay unnoticed.

Teenage romance is always fraught with drama, but with two protagonists who are so different from their peers, there are a number of obstacles, especially the fact that no one in Eleanor's family must know that Park even exists. The book is wonderfully written, with constantly alternating points of view from both Park and Eleanor. Rowell captures the joy and terror of first love, but throughout the book, I couldn't shake the underlying sense of impending doom, as glimpse by glimpse, the reader (and Park) is given insight into just how awful Eleanor's daily existence is, and horrible strain she's under at home.

Eleanor and Park are both wonderful characters, and you feel so deeply for both of them, crossing your fingers for their happy ending. I had very high expectations for this book, what with Attachments being one of my top three books in 2011. That book made me deeply happy, this is a darker and more challenging book to read. Because I tend to get so deeply emotionally invested in the books I read and the characters I care about, it was much harder for me to read this one. Eleanor and Park are exactly in the age group I teach now, and it scares the hell out of me that none of the adults in this book picked up on just how bad Eleanor's situation is. I'm also glad to say that bullying like she goes through would never be allowed in the school where I work, by teachers of the majority of pupils. I highly recommend this book, but be warned that it goes to some pretty dark places, and it made me cry towards the end.

Disclaimer! I recieved a review copy of this book from St. Martin's Press through NetGalley. I also liked the book so much I bought and paid for my own e-copy of the book. That should tell you how good it is.

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