Whenever there is a lot of hype and publicity surrounding a book release, I've found that it rather suits me to wait a few months and let the dust settle a bit before I actually pick up the book. This tends to prevent the dreaded book-disappointment-due-to-inflated-expectations syndrome, a horrible situation I've fallen prey to more than once and largely caused by over-exuberant marketing departments making promises they simply cannot keep. (Remember Night Circus? Ahem, case in point. I'm still waiting for my money back on that one.)
And so I've learned patience.
No way was I running out and grabbing the new Rainbow Rowell novel everyone was talking about early last spring. Nope. Not me.
Eleanor & Park was released back in February of this year to a wildly enthusiastic young adult audience. While this novel easily fits the genre, now that I've read it I would suggest that it easily transcends genre boundaries and belongs in the adult literature category as well.
Eleanor is a new transfer student to the local high school in Omaha, Nebraska and it is abundantly clear to Park - and everyone else - that she is never going to fit in with her odd fashion sense and the huge chip on her shoulder. Furthermore, Eleanor couldn't care less what people think of her. They can all go to hell in her estimation. Her anger with the world might be easy to write off as typical teen angst, but Eleanor has a very good reason to be furious with the world. Poverty, abuse, and neglect form the foundation of her home life and it is this dirty little secret she is determined to hide from the world.
Enter Park. A normal teenager, if ever a word could be applied. As an Asian-American growing up in what is quite possibly the whitest city in America, Park is no stranger to feeling like an outsider. Perhaps this is where he finds common ground with Eleanor. Or perhaps he is simply the first person who has ever treated her with a modicum of respect. Whatever the reason, Park and Eleanor fall in love. And if you dust the cobwebs off your memories of that time in your life, I'm pretty sure you will recall the intensity of that first love.
And now we get to the heart of the story. Because at this point, Eleanor & Park could have been just another teenage love story in which the author manages to capture the intense, yet predictable emotions on paper rather well. In other words, just another John Green novel. This novel, however, takes your reading experience much, much further. Take away the predictability of that John Green book you love so well, but leave the emotions laid bare. Now throw in an uncomfortable, but necessary, examination of societal mores and values (think: Lionel Shriver) and the end result is a novel that is a contender for one of the best of the year, if not one of the best young adult books ever penned.
Yes, I said that. Ever penned.
Because Eleanor & Park is not simply a story about first love. It is about acceptance, it is about choices, it is about the hell adults inflict upon our children, it is about poverty, it is about abuse, it is about bullying, it is about shame. It is about all of these issues - and more - laid bare for all of us to see. This is why we read books. And if we are very patient, every so often a novel like this comes along to reward us.
Eleanor & Park is one of those stories that, with just a few different choices by the author, would have been just another mundane book sitting on the shelf next to a hundred others exactly like it. Instead, a brilliant young woman turned this story into an unforgettable stamp upon the reader's conscious. Buy it. Borrow it. Steal it. Whatever. Just get your hands on a copy at some point. Okay?
Title: Eleanor & Park
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Publisher: St. Martin's
Source: Library Audiobook Download
Rating: 5 Stars. And then some.