Friday, November 29, 2013

off the bookshelf: rainbow rowell's "eleanor & park"

This is a love story.
It's one of those all-consuming, wishy-washy, confusing, high school love stories. 

And I don't know if I'm a realist (this is how I optimistically refer to myself) or a pessimist, but it's just not my thing. I didn't even love John Green's The Fault in our Stars
and I know I'm in the minority on that one. Even my gory video game-playing, comic book-reading, Walking Dead-watching husband liked that one. (Eesh - is that saying something about me?) It's about teenagers with cancer (and much more), and yes, I do feel badly about not liking it. I even decided not to write an Off the Bookshelf of it for that reason. I know the book is an inspiration to many.

It's just that high school love stories always seem too intense, or too great (as in too significant) to be real, or too one-day-this-one-day-that. It's like a roller coaster that I don't really understand. Is that because high school kids are sort of like that? And I just forget what that's like? To be fair, it has been more than a decade since I was 16. But I did have my little loves in high school, of course, like we all do. Never a love like the one that Eleanor and Park build - and certainly not as fast. It all seems too beautiful. Or too naive, I can't decide.

The other thing that really bothered me is that there are some really big issues at play here. Themes that should probably be developed just a little more, but aren't, so that their love story can take main stage. Things like a history of abuse (Eleanor's step-father), neglect (her father wants nothing to do with her), bullying, and poverty (she doesn't even own a toothbrush) are obstacles in her daily life that don't get quite the recognition that I think they should. Elanor is openly self-critical and she does reflect on these things as difficult. But I'm apt to consider them as larger than difficult, even when the author isn't. I'm not saying that Rowell's idea that love can conquer all isn't heroic and a positive statement about finding light in troubled times (even calling them "troubled times" gives me pause - it's not a big enough description for the pain). But when you're still growing and still finding who you are (and if it were me), these things would have a much larger impact on my outlook, my actions, my relationships. These themes are explored in a sort of flippant way, and I don't like that. It just doesn't seem real.

I know that people love this book. So don't let me deter you; perhaps I am a cynic. Love is a beautiful and powerful thing and I should embrace the fact that it can change us, mold us, motivate and inspire us, and in the end, be the thing we hold most dear in our lives. My own love story has done all of these things for me. So you should read it and decide for yourself.

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