Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell

In the latest installment of Cheryl Gets a Smart Phone, I have learned how to download and listen to an MP3 audiobook on my Droid! Let’s just bask in that glow of accomplishment before we even get to the review of the book. I had to go stand in the Digital Librarians’ office to download the software. We call this room the DigiDen, a small room filled with happily busy geeks, pooling all of their creative ideas and techy know-how. It’s heady stuff, and it’s just down the hall from me. Anyhow, several of them are Droid users, so I stood there with my phone in hand saying, “Now it says this. What do I press?” After a few steps and some great advice, I was ready to go. I actually downloaded the book in the Food Lion parking lot the next night.

So, now that I’ve congratulated myself on my ever-increasing knowledge (of names of tech-savvy Droid users whom I can harass), let’s move on to the very worthy audiobook.

Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell, is a love story. It’s also a book about parents’ new partners, child abuse and neglect, and several other gritty topics. Eleanor has just returned home after a year of living with family friends. Her new stepfather threw her out when she expressed her negative opinion of his treatment of her mother. Unfortunately for everyone, Eleanor has several younger siblings who continued to live with their mother and this drunken, abusive creep. Not too far away, Park lives with his deliriously happily married parents, an ex-Marine and a Korean beautician. Although Park is short and quiet, the kids at school leave him alone because he and the bully, Steve, have been friends since they were little kids. The first day that Eleanor gets on the bus, wearing ill-fitting thrift store clothing, no one wants to let her sit beside them. Finally Park, very ungraciously, allows her to sit by him.

As these two very different teens begin to crack open the doors to their private worlds, a very tender love story begins, a story so unlikely that they hesitate to admit it even to themselves, let alone their classmates or their family. Eleanor, in particular, lives in such extreme poverty and fear that shame keeps her from revealing any details of her life. As they share a love of music and comic books, their relationship becomes obvious to the outside world, and the world comes rushing in. Everyone has an opinion, some expected and some quite surprising. Tragically, they come to realize that people their age are powerless to control their own lives. However, they can make courageous— but painful— decisions.

The blistering language in parts of this book is entirely appropriate for the situation. Rowell’s brilliant writing packs an emotional wallop, and you will become completely invested in the characters, despising some and treasuring others. The plot unfolds slowly, building tension and dread. The voice alternates between the two main characters, allowing the reader to experience life and love with both of them. Since I listened to the audiobook, I have to give kudos to the readers, Rebecca Lowman and Sunil Malhotra— especially Sunil. I cannot imagine Park with any other voice, and now I want to listen to everything Mr. Malhotra has ever narrated.

Eleanor and Park is definitely at the top of my list of teen fiction so far this year. Although written for teens, I can’t imagine an adult who would not appreciate it even more, particularly because the adult characters are fully fleshed out, which is not typical in young adult literature.  If you don’t object to the language, go right now and buy it or put it on hold at your library.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. My opinions are my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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1 Comment

Filed under Book Reviews

One response to “Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell

  1. ok, I like the idea of fleshed out characters since that has been my main complaint so far with the 2 2013 YA books I have read. Any time you want to make a guest appearance at Printz, let me know!

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