#Review: Summer Reading “Eleanor & Park”

#Review: Summer Reading “Eleanor & Park”

Lindsay Poetz was named Teacher of the Year for Plantation Key School in 2013. Like a good educator, she’s doing her summer reading too.

“I am reading all of the books on the F.A.M.E. Florida Teen Reads list this summer to prepare for the upcoming school year. The best book on the list that I have read so far is ‘Elenanor and Park’ by Rainbow Rowell,” she said.

Poetz particularly appreciates the ’80s musical references.

“I think adults will also love this book, especially adults who grew up in that era,” she said.

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Eleanor & Park

By Rainbow Rowell

St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013

Review by Laura Albritton

If you were ever bullied, harassed, or humiliated by school chums, the novel “Eleanor & Park” will bring back the pain of those episodes with crashing insistence. It’s the mid-1980s in author Rainbow Rowell’s high school story, a time of acid washed jeans and mixed tapes, when two teenaged misfits meet and fall in love. Brilliantly written, this book may be about teens, but it’s certainly capable of captivating adult readers.

When Park first notices new girl Eleanor on the bus, no one else will sit with her, because she’s “big and awkward. With crazy hair, bright red on top of curly. And she was dressed like…like she wanted people to look at her. Or maybe like she didn’t get what a mess she was.” Eventually, Park realizes that Eleanor’s crazy style results from poverty and neglect. Her stepfather Richie abuses her mother and terrorizes Eleanor and her four siblings.

Meanwhile, Park lives with his Korean mom and Vietnam vet dad in a sanctuary of normalcy and love — compared to Eleanor. Gradually he comes to appreciate this unusual, somewhat chubby girl, but even then, her weirdness can still embarrass him: “He’d thought he was over caring what people thought about him. He’d thought that loving Eleanor proved that. But he kept finding new pockets of shallow inside himself. He kept finding new ways to betray her.”

Rowell convincingly shifts between Eleanor and Park’s points of view, and throws in plenty of surprises. Park’s Avon lady mother and his Tom Selleck lookalike father also warm to their son’s oddball girlfriend, and behave with genuine decency. Park’s dad tells Eleanor, “I know that your stepdad isn’t an easy man to be around … And I’m just saying, you know, that if it’s easier to be over here, then you should just be over here.”

Park, his parents, a couple of high school bullies, and two other adults finally intervene when Eleanor faces an awful danger. Be warned: these scenes may bring on tears. I haven’t read as unpredictable, heart-breaking, and hopeful an ending in a very long time.

Laura Albritton’s guidebook Miami for Families (www.MiamiForFamilies.com) was recently published by the University Press of Florida.

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