Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park - Rainbow Rowell This book gutted me. It felt like my insides were being ripped out for most of the book. I laughed repeatedly-- the author captures adolescent voices with rare ability. This book is not only the perfect depiction or first love-- all the agonizing and the feeling of desperate wildness that comes with it, but it's a deeply moving story about a girl's struggle with her life and the rather dark and horrible things swirling around her. It's just so excuriatingly real.

It is really unlike most others in the genre. I guess it is YA, but it is so far from most contemporary YA it almost feels like it's own genre. It somehow manages to be stark while also being romantic. Heart-wrenching and heart warming at the same moment. There is no knight-in-shining-armor, or perfect romance, and certainly no perfection in either of the characters. That's what makes Park and Eleanor so amazing to read about-- their complete lack of perfection. The synopsis says it's the story of two misfits finding love. They are that. It is that and something else entirely. I can't quite put my finger on it.

It's the story of a girl with a dark and secret pain, something that she doesn't express with any kind of certainty. She has neither answers for her problems nor self-pity. The details of her situation, seen through her eyes, just are. The way that she deals with her reality and how she exposes it to the reader so perfectly capture the voice of a troubled teenage girl it feels like reading non-fiction.

The danger with this type of story-- one with with such a troubled heroine-- is that it would be easy for the hero to just swoop in a save the day. But Park doesn't save Eleanor. Though Park's daily life isn't really as difficult or messy as Eleanor's the way Park deals with his own demons and obstacles is also realistic. He doesn't save Eleanor. It's the story of finding and needing and wanting, not saving.

Park struggles with the idea that Eleanor is the weird girl that no one else likes. While he likes her, he also hates that the other kids see her as something "other". He wants to defend her, he wants her to be herself, but part of him also wants her to just give up and try to fit in. That kills him. His conflict about the whole thing. His struggle personifies the teenage condition-- all confusion and warring desires.

I have to say that I nearly threw the book across the room at the ending. Though the ending is clear from page one, I couldn't help hoping for more. The author leaves the book on a very ambiguous note, but after all that fighting and heart-wrenching pain I wanted something more. I needed something more. I finished the book with a heavy, heavy heart, though it's not necessarily a sad ending. Read it for yourself and you'll see, maybe you'll be more optimistic than I.