21 August 2013

Eleanor and Park - Rainbow Rowell

I read this entirely in one day during the Mini Readathon at the beginning of July (it was great, we'll do another one, hurrah for permission to read and eat all day!).  My justification for this being "mini" was that it is about teenagers, who are basically mini-humans in mind if not in body. And while, yes, that is technically true, oh lord.

Ladies, you know how sometimes you're like, "WHY am I sobbing at this? What is going ON? How do I FEEL SO MUCH RIGHT NOW?!?" and then two days later your least favorite aunt comes to visit and you're like, "oh. Maybe I won't die alone and pathetic and be eaten by wild dogs after all. Bring me the chocolate and ibuprofen, feline companion!" 


Those first few days of feeeeeeels are not the ideal time to read Eleanor & Park, people, because Eleanor & Park is a book about... 

Ok, here's the thing. I got into a Twitter discussion with Rainbow Rowell last night about the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary, and I said that the Ramona books are ABOUT Ramona, but Judy Blume's books are ABOUT growing up, and that is why Ramona sticks with us ladies of a certain age: because she is a real kid with a real range of kid problems. She's also the reason I can't look at a crop of Shirley Temple curls without wanting to boing them.

Which brings me back to Eleanor & Park, and what this book is ABOUT. The title characters are complete, which I really liked and which is surprisingly rare for most books - I was going to say YA books, but let's be honest: characterization is not currently in style in fiction, is it? 

But Eleanor and Park are not only well-defined and realized, they're also genuine teenagers. They do stupid shit, they think stupid things, they get stuff wrong, they're just trying to survive being teens, which is - as you may remember - HARD ENOUGH. But wrapped in all of this is Eleanor's family, which is broke and broken in a way that made me uncomfortable because I grew up poor and broken but not the same kind, so I empathized but also felt weird about my empathy because the shit that happened to me when I was a kid is nothing compared to what she is going through. Empathy is an odd thing.

So, Tika, what is this book about? You got all excitable about telling us and then went off on a tangent.

Well, my dear reader, first of all you cannot be surprised that such a thing would happen. And secondly, Eleanor & Park is a book about growing up and first love and whimsy and the awkwardness of being a teenager and parenting and preconceived notions and a definite hint of pride and prejudice (the emotions, not the book). It made my heart sore, and soar, and I had to stop a few times to ugly cry - sometimes for Eleanor and sometimes for Park.

It's a book teachers of high school students should read to remind them of what it's like to be the beings they're trying to connect to, and that's about the highest praise I can think of.

10.5 of 11 Mix Tapes from the Radio