in recent years

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eleanor & park by rainbow rowell

I really, really loved Eleanor & Park. Any time I read a book that’s been hyped immensely I get real, real nervous about reading it. I like liking things that other people like, but that often ends up not being the case. I don’t think it’s necessarily that I’m obstinate — though I am, extremely — or that other people don’t like good things, it’s just that hype makes things into giant towering piles of bullshit. You know how that goes.

But Eleanor & Park was totally worth the risk or, rather, wasn’t really a risk at all since it was so, so, so incredibly good.

There are a lot of elements that come together to really make the book work: Park’s wonderful family that isn’t too perfect, Eleanor’s shitty family and her refusal to let their shittiness dictate her entire existence, the push-pull of foreignness and familiarity that comes with setting the story in the semi-recent past (at least for someone of my age, I imagine the effect is very different for those too young to have ever owned a cassette tape), the emphasis on music that never feels forced or braggy, the wonderfully, agonizingly slow romance of it, the emphasis on real, honest teen sexuality, punchy, interesting language that never gets too showy, and thoughtful, complex teenaged narrators that never feel anything other than real and truthful and fully-fleshed.

I don’t know how Rowell manages to do what she does in this book so well, but if her other novels manage even three-quarters of what this one does, she’s got to be a wizard of some kind.

I got so caught up in the storytelling and the experience of the book that I didn’t even highlight hardly anything and that’s generally a really good sign? I really, really loved the moment when Park took Eleanor’s hand for the first time because it was rendered so perfectly. “He wound the scarf around his fingers until her hand was hanging in the space between them. Then he slid the silk and his fingers into her open palm. And Eleanor disintegrated.” Me too, Eleanor, me too.

I also really loved Park gathering every AA battery he could find to bring to Eleanor for her Walkman. “He emptied all his handheld video games and Josh’s remote control cars, and called his grandma to tell her that all he wanted for his birthday in November was AA batteries.” I mean, is there any better show of devotion in that moment? Wonderful.

Anyway, if you can’t tell, I loved this one and I am so, so glad that I ignored that dumb part of me that wants to avoid things that lots of other people love. It turns out that sometimes — okay, maybe often — people are pretty smart. Or whatever.