Once a month, we choose an outstanding YA book to review. We want to spotlight books of interest to aspiring writers, as well as highlight some of our favorite books and authors!
This month's Book Pick is ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell.
Synopsis (from Goodreads): "Bono met his wife in high school," Park says."So did Jerry Lee Lewis," Eleanor answers.
"I’m not kidding," he says.
"You should be," she says, "we’re sixteen."
"What about Romeo and Juliet?"
"Shallow, confused, then dead."
''I love you," Park says.
"Wherefore art thou," Eleanor answers.
"I’m not kidding," he says.
"You should be."
Set over the course of one school year in 1986, ELEANOR AND PARK is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under.
First Line: "He'd stopped trying to bring her back."
The book starts near the end of the story and then goes back to the beginning. This can be tricky to pull off, since it's often just a gimmick to hook the reader with some action so they'll stick around for a slower start. Here, though, it works well. The author keeps the beginning very short and just intriguing enough to make you wonder how this narrator got so attached to the girl he's describing. It also helps that the beginning of the story is immediately compelling and well-written all by itself.
Highlights: The author absolutely nails the feeling of being a sixteen-year-old outsider thrown into a group of unsympathetic peers. Her depiction of the careless cruelty Eleanor experiences at school was realistic and evocative, to the point where I actually had trouble reading it in places because I was so forcibly reminded of some of my own high school experiences.
The romantic relationship is also grounded in reality. The characters don't fall in insta-love--quite the opposite, actually. They forge a bond through shared interests before they start to see each other in a romantic light. When they fall in love, they fall hard... but this makes sense too. They are sixteen, after all.
Although I won't spoil it, I also really liked the ending of the book. It wasn't what I expected, but it felt very narratively satisfying and true to the characters.
Notes for Writers: The story is set in 1986, which makes it historical fiction (believe it or not, that was twenty-seven years ago!). The whole story is peppered with bits of nostalgia, from mix tapes to punk music to comic books. Although there are story reasons for the historical setting, it's also an interesting way to add an extra layer of enjoyment for older readers.
A Good Read For: Writers of YA contemporary (or near-contemporary) fiction or "issues" books.