All right, listen up. All you complainers who say young adult/teen narrators are too precocious, too Juno? Shut up and read this book.
I have a controversy to thank for my finally getting around to reading Eleanor & Park. A local school district--mind you, a district that has had significant problems with bullying, among other issues--had invited author Rainbow Rowell to talk. But then a few loud parents spoke up because, gosh, this book has profanity and, even goshier, talks about sex. In a book for teens. Because we know teens would never swear or talk about or even--gasp!--engage in sex. So the school district cancelled the appearance.
This got my curmudgeonly self in high dudgeon, and I wanted to see what the fuss was about.
Imagine my shock (not) at discovering a thoughtfully written, deep exploration of two teens who slowly fall in love, believably, and with plenty of pitfalls. Eleanor in particular is the subject of some pretty intense bullying, but that's hardly as bad as what's going on at home. Park's mom is Korean, which makes him a little different too. Yet they both have friends, so their relationship isn't a matter of hanging on to the only person who likes them.
It's a real relationship, starting in friendship over shared comics and music. The friendship grows and starts approaching the physical, and Rowell does an amazing job of conveying that moment when you first hold hands, and the first kiss, and how it feels. She's also very attune to teen mindframes. A scene where Park spies Eleanor, who's overweight, in her gym suit nearly brought me to tears, because what Eleanor assumes Park must think of her body is miles away from what he really thinks.
These are teens right out of the real world, facing real issues both at home and at school. Is there profanity? Yes. Anyone ridden a bus to high school lately? Guess what? Your little darling who has a sweet tongue at home might speak a different language out of your sight.
Here's a thought: instead of banning the book and the author, how about reading it together, and talking about it? A teen could learn a great deal about empathy and looking beyond the surface by reading Eleanor and Park's story. What's more, they don't leap into bed, as critics would have you think, but approach the idea of having sex slowly and carefully. Wow--what horrible role models.
So, yeah, I liked this book a lot, and if I could get my non-novel-reading teen to read it, I would.