Sunday, September 22, 2013

Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor is an awkward redhead from a difficult family situation.  Park is a half-Korean punk rocker (and the only Asian kid in Omaha to boot!).  When she boards the school bus on the first day, she looks like a train wreck ready to happen.  Park takes pity on her.  And over a series of silent bus rides together, a friendship develops that turns into something more.  Yes, it's just a love story.

But it's also a lot more.  Told through the alternating voices of Park and Eleanor, Rowell has crafted an amazingly honest book about emotions and the flowering of love.  There are the mandatory references to Romeo and Juliet, but the novel itself is surprisingly fresh for a story that ought to be so overdone.  And while I hate the setting (did it really need to be set in the 80s?), the writing is pitch perfect.

This is also a story that grabs you by the jugular. It has tragedy painted all over it, which ought to prepare you for the ending, but the expected train wreck still devastates you.  These are kids that it is impossible not to care about and when bad stuff happens, it strikes you in a surprisingly effective way.  Perhaps, because these are good people and you want to see the best things happen to them.

The characters are key, of course. Park can be a bit clueless but he is likeable.  Eleanor captures your heart as intensely private and proud, and compassionate beyond her years.  And what's not to love about Park's mother, who is part Asian tiger mother stereotype, but with so much more depth and heart than Koreans ever get painted with by popular media?

In sum, a truly memorable and excellent book.  Plenty of other reviewers have said as much so I realize I am not breaking any ground here, but for anyone who fears that I hate everything I read, it's a pleasure to prove that I'm not a total curmudgeon!

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