Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘Rainbow Rowell

After a bumpy start due to some rough language and mature subjects, Eleanor and Park has become one of my favorite teen romances. It breaks stereotypes, depicts realistic situations and characters, and doesn’t shy away from the darker sides of life. In other words, this is neither a fluffy romance nor an overwrought tragedy. It’s as real as they come. Eleanor and Park is a poignant love story.

How does Eleanor and Park break stereotypes? It’s main characters are not beautiful. Eleanor is an overweight, fiery red-head who often wears old mismatched clothes in “creative” ways. Park seems to be an average Asian kid — who eventually decides to experiment with make-up. It does not serve up the well-worn tale of the outcast who falls in love with the most popular. When Eleanor and Park meet on the school bus, they only reluctantly acknowledge one another. She needs a seat, and the space next to Park is available. The book also does not offer the oft-used story of the knight-in-shining-armor. Yes, Eleanor lives in an abusive home. And true, although she is a strong survivor, Eleanor can’t avoid being demoralized, frightened into submission, or even kicked out. But Park can’t change her home life. Nor is he old enough to help Eleanor escape her situation through marriage. By now you may have guessed that this is also not the story of the good girl who falls for the bad boy. Park comes from a good home with caring parents, and is pretty much the boy next door. The last cliché that I wish to address involves the first time the two touch one another. One of my biggest gripes about the most teen romances is that they always feature inexperienced kids who never seem to have any difficulty figuring out what goes where. Not so here! Rainbow Rowell gets it right. Eleanor and Park are excited and passionate, but also scared, nervous, and awkward. Which incidentally is why I absolutely adore her two main characters.

At this point, I could actually stop and make this one of my shortest reviews on record. Instead, I’ll share with you some of my favorite moments. For starters, there’s how Eleanor and Park first make contact. Day after day they share a bus bench, and day after day Eleanor avoids talking to him or even looking at him. Which isn’t too difficult, because Park spends every bus ride absorbed in his comics. But with no one to talk to, Eleanor soon finds herself stealing glances at Park’s comics, and, secretly, reading them along with him. When Park realizes this, he’s a little disturbed. And yet he finds himself waiting to turn each page until he’s sure Eleanor is finished. Still the two don’t talk. Instead of finishing his current comic at school during free time, Park saves it so Eleanor can read it “with” him on the bus. And when she gets up at her stop, he hands the comic to her. By this point, both have yet to even say a word to one another. It’s amazing how much Rowell develops a scene through quiet little moments. It’s also so true to life for many actual relationships. It’s page 43 before Eleanor and Park even talk. And then there’s a very awkward moment when Park asks, “So, you like the Smiths?” A four-sentence exchange occurs before school, which then continues after school. Each new stage of their relationship is equally paced, from when they admire each other’s unique traits to when they share funny or heated moments to their first phone call and date. Rowell never rushes any scene. In doing so, she perfectly captures what new love is like, right up to the point that Eleanor and Park hold hands and later verbally declare their love. I could fill many more paragraphs with other favorite moments, but I probably should save something for you to discover. 🙂

At the start, I referenced the fact that Eleanor and Park is more than a romance. Scenes involving other characters often involve a LOT of language which will not sit well with many readers. Rowell also explores many unpleasant situations. Most teens will encounter bullies; Eleanor faces some pretty brutal ones. Rowell grew up with poverty and draws upon those experiences to show how difficult it can be to escape. While Rowell writes about all these and more in a compassionate and honest manner, I would recommend this book ONLY for older teens.

At this time, Eleanor and Park is so popular at my local library that I ran up a bill to keep it long enough to review it. I probably should have just bought it, because both my husband and I are now huge fans. The only reason I didn’t buy it is because Rowell lives fifty miles from us, and so I hope to one day soon meet her at a book signing. Language aside, it’s so nice to see an author accurately capture the agony and ecstasy of first love.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

Should we invite her?

This past fall, a group of high school librarians in Minnesota chose Eleanor and Park as their school district’s summer read and invited author Rainbow Rowell to visit the Minneapolis-area schools.

Should we not invite her?

Later that fall, two parents gained the support of the district’s Parent Action League in their request to the Anoka-Hennepin school district, county board, and local library board to cancel the visit. Moreover, they asked for Eleanor and Park to be removed from the library shelves. Furthermore, they wanted the school librarians disciplined for daring to arrange a visit from Rainbow Rowell.

Who won?

The Anoka County Library not only pulled its invite but the Anoka-Hennepin district declined to pick up the speaker’s fee the library had offered. In addition, neither responded to Rowell’s offer to come for free.

If all this happened in 2013, why am I reporting on it? Because I’m reviewing Eleanor and Park this Saturday.

Let me take a step back though and present the complaints lodged against Eleanor and Park. My information comes from these articles:

Two-hundred and twenty-seven offending words were listed in the report compiled by the Parents’ Action League. This included 67 Gods, 24 Jesuses and 4 Christs. The F bomb and its various iterations was also used.

Their report also condemned the content, which they considered as age inappropriate. For example, Eleanor and Park includes topics such as underage sex and drinking, pornography, and sexual abuse. The Parents Action League labeled Eleanor and Park as obscene and profane. Over all, they view the book as too controversial for a teenage audience. One county board member said she got a few chapters into the book and “literally could not finish it. It was disgusting.”

Erin Grace of The Omaha World Herald takes the stand instead that the shocking words are used primarily by objectionable people such as school bullies and an abusive stepfather. She adds that the controversial words are “symbols of the sometimes harrowing world of high school and the always terrifyingly uncertain world of poverty and abuse”. Through Grace, I also learned that Rowell herself had grown up in poverty and struggled to rise above it.

As for Rowell’s own reaction?

  • About the profanity: The main characters don’t feel comfortable with swearing and rarely do.
  • About the bullying and abuse: Teenagers swear and are cruel to each other. Some kids have terrible parents who shout profanity at them and call them names but who still manage to rise above it.
  • About other content: Eleanor and Park don’t smoke or drink or do drugs. They decide not to have sex.

“When these people call ‘Eleanor and Park‘ an obscene story, I feel like they’re saying that rising above your situation isn’t possible. That if you grow up in an ugly situation, your story isn’t even fit for good people’s ears. That ugly things cancel out everything beautiful.”

Even so, Rowell adds that she respects the decision of parents who don’t want their kids to read Eleanor and Park or to hear her speak. What surprises her more is that they made the decision for the whole school district.

But then, doesn’t this get at the heart of censorship? Ultimately, aren’t we all trying to decide in these battles is who gets to make the choices? Do people get the right not only to choose for themselves (and their families), but also to choose for everyone else what can be read, listened to, or viewed?

RainbowRowellRainbow Rowell is very good at two things—reading and writing. In that way, she sounds like me. In reporting on Rowell, Bookreporter quips that people who are best at reading and writing (and who also want health insurance) study journalism. Here, the similarities end. You see, not only did Rowell earn a journalism degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, but at age 24 she also became the youngest columnist at the Omaha World-Herald. Incidentally, she was also the first female columnist for the paper.

Author of three novels, Rowell first gained attention with Fangirl and Eleanor and Park. Both were chosen by The New York Times as being among the best young adult fiction of 2013. Rowell completed the first draft of Fangirl for National Novel Writing Month in 2011. It was chosen as the inaugural selection for Tumblr’s reblog book club. Eleanor & Park was also chosen in 2013 by Amazon as one of the 10 best books and as Goodreads’ best young adult fiction of the year.

This latter book has sparked controversy, which I’ll talk about in tomorrow’s post. I’ll also review it here on Saturday. Save the dates: March 21-22!

Most famous for her romance fiction, Rowell told Book Browse that she “didn’t have anything in high school as dramatic as what Eleanor and Park have”. While she did have a high school boyfriend whom she liked a lot, and they went to lots of indie movies and laser light shows, her love story is with my husband. The two met in the seventh grade and were close friends all through junior high, high school and college. Rowell shares that when the two finally confessed their feelings for each other, “it made everything that had come before seem like one long build-up. Like we’d been dancing around each other for eight years.”

In college, Rowell explains to Bethany Actually that because she didn’t drink, she spent a lot of time not fitting in. It was apparently especially difficult at the college newspaper, in that Rowell spent most of her free time there but didn’t party with anyone. “I was there for the fights and the melodramatics and the coups. But I missed out on all the stress relief, the drunken make-out sessions and the inside jokes.”

On the heels of her success as a novelist, Rowell left her job as a columnist at The Omaha Herald to write fiction full-time. Bookreporter notes that when she’s not writing, Rowell is reading comic books, planning Disney World trips and “arguing with people about things that don’t really matter in the big scheme of things”. Rowell lives with her husband and two sons in Nebraska. Her next novel, Landline, will be for adults.

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