From time to time, I come across a recommend on one of the book blogs I follow that is so convincing I just have to take it. This book, eleanore & park by Rainbow Rowell, was one of those books. I don't always enjoy YA fiction because sometimes I feel like the writer just scratches the surface and doesn't really create a strong enough storyline. This book was not like that. I will admit that eleanore & park did not make a great first impression. I read the first few pages and seriously considered just returning it to the library. Right away there is a lot of foul language and I mean a lot. This is a book about teenagers and I know that a large percentage of teenagers curse, but it's still not my favorite thing to read. I pressed on, fueled by that glowing review I had read, and I'm so glad that I did.
eleanore & park is, not surprisingly, about two teenagers named Eleanore and Park. They live in a not-so-nice part of Omaha, Nebraska in 1986-87. The book begins with Eleanore, the new kid who doesn't look like she is going to have an easy time fitting in with the other kids, boarding the school bus for the first time. She gets on the bus and no one will let her sit down. The other kids scoot to the edge of the seat or place their bags so that there is no room. The bus driver is screaming at her to sit down when Park, the only Asian kid who has his own troubles fitting in, finally moves over and tells her to sit down, but not exactly in the nicest fashion. For weeks, Eleanore sits with Park, never speaking, never even looking up. She is picked on and called names and becomes the new favorite target of all teenage cruelty. The bus and gym class are where she suffers the most.
Unfortunately for Eleanore, school is not the worst of her problems. She lives in a very small home, sharing a very small bedroom with her three younger siblings. The bunk bed is so small that the boys have to sleep on the floor. The bathroom is in the kitchen and doesn't even have a door. They have very little food and she has only two or three sets of clothes, all purchased at the thrift store and either stretched out or filled with holes. Her stepfather is a drunk who beats her mother and hates Eleanore. The children live in a state of constant fear and hunger. It is not a good situation, to say the least.
Gradually, Eleanore and Park become friends and then more. It is so sweet watching two outcasts find someone with whom they have so much in common. I had so much fun experiencing the beginning of a teen romance with them, but I also cried. It is so hard to be a teenager, especially when there is so much else working against said teenager.
This is a book I would almost add to my Teen Required Reading list, but I would have to do so with caution. The language and a few make out scenes may cause some parents to pause before passing this to their child. On the other hand, the topics of bullying and domestic violence are important as well as the need to understand that some people have much more difficult circumstances than we might realize. One of my favorite quotes is "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." If we could somehow help our teenagers, and ourselves, understand this, the world would be filled with so much more compassion. I will recommend this book to you, adult Smart Girls, and if you so desire, pass it along.