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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Eleanor and Park, written by Rainbow Rowell. St. Martin's Griffin, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2013. $21.99 ages 14 and up

"I don't even think I breathe when we're not together" she whispered. "Which means, when I see you on Monday morning, it's been like sixty hours since I've taken a breath. That's probably why I'm so crabby, and why I snap at you. All I do when we're apart is think about you, and all I do when we're together is panic. Because every second feels so important."

My friend Helen asked me what I thought of this book, and if I thought she should give it to her granddaughter as a birthday gift. At the time, I had only heard small inklings about it through other bloggers and a journal review. I had it on order so that I could check it out. Within a week, it was at my door and within a day, I had finished it....totally immersed in Eleanor and Park's world, captivated by their incredible characters and mesmerized by Rainbow Rowell's writing. It is the second book this year that I will surely read again! (The other is Code Name Verity.) Oh, my!!!

When Eleanor boards the bus bound for her new school, she is noticed. She has bright red crazy hair, wears clothes that speak of her individuality and she is 'big and awkward'. Everyone else has a seat that would be theirs for the school year. There is nowhere for her to sit. Park is the only one willing to move so that she can sit down. He is not happy, and pays no attention to her. That is their beginning.

Every day after that, Eleanor sits with Park and they soon find that being together is much better than being alone. She likes the comics he likes. He makes playlists for her, and then gives her batteries so that she can listen to them. Their relationship grows stronger daily, and is very powerful and heartfelt.

Their two families are a study in contrasts. Eleanor is terrified of her abusive stepfather, for her siblings and herself. She attempts to avoid him at all costs. The family is poor; Eleanor cannot afford the batteries she needs to listen to the music she loves. She creates her own outlandish outfits from castoffs and used clothing shops. Park's family is loving, supportive and eventually welcoming to Eleanor.

There should be no relationship in the eyes of the world they live in. Eleanor doesn't fit the mold of the American teenage girl. Park is outside the norm with his biracial heritage, his eyeliner, his love of music and comics. They should not fit! But, they do. They take small steps toward each other, growing and changing with each new experience that they share, or do not. I love their astute observations, the way the author describes their growing love for each other, the 1980s Omaha setting, and their innocence.

Rainbow Rowell does such justice to her characters; offering ever-changing points of view, giving them strength that can cause conflict with the other, allowing them to grow slowly into a meaningful relationship, and leaving them forever memorable to those who read their story.  I could not write this post earlier...I needed to live with Eleanor and Park in my memory for a while before telling you that reading about them is one of the great pleasures of my reading year. You need to know them, too! 

Here's why:

“Bono met his wife in high school," Park says.
"So did Jerry Lee Lewis," Eleanor answers.
"I’m not kidding," he says.
"You should be," she says, "we’re sixteen."
"What about Romeo and Juliet?"
"Shallow, confused," then dead.
"I love you, Park says.
"Wherefore art thou," Eleanor answers.
"I’m not kidding," he says.
"You should be.”  


“I miss you, Eleanor. I want to be with you all the time. You’re the smartest girl I’ve ever met, and the funniest, and everything you do surprises me. And I wish I could say that those are the reasons I like you, because that would make me sound like a really evolved human being …‘But I think it’s got as much to do with your hair being red and your hands being soft … and the fact that you smell like homemade birthday cake”  


“Or maybe, he thought now, he just didn't recognize all those other girls. The way a computer drive will spit out a disk if it doesn't recognize the formatting.
When he touched Eleanor's hand, he recognized her. He knew.”  

I could go on....

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