Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Review: Eleanor & Park

For the last few weeks my guilty pleasure hasn't been a sketchy reality show or rocking out to some cheesy 80's music. It's been listening to Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. I started this random audio book one restless night and quickly became hooked. The book is almost certainly targeted to teens, but I couldn't put it down.

Eleanor and Park is two stories in one. First, it's the tale of a young lady who's had the system fail her. Her Mom is stuck in an abusive relationship, and therefore so are her and her siblings. Her bio-dad can't see beyond his own selfish needs. Most of her teachers, and even the police are of no use and often make her situation worse. There's no sign of social services, helpful social programs or loving foster parents. And if that weren't enough of a burden, she's living in utter poverty. Needless to say, this is a tough story-line. Eleanor is written as a wonderfully strong character who faces this adversity with grit and determination.

As a foster parent, I can't help but feel enraged by this part of the book. I'm sure this sort of thing happens in communities all over the country, but it just shouldn't be so. Eleanor, her siblings and her mother are enduring abuse and neglect that no individual should face. The Step-Dad belongs in prison, or at least out of the picture. Social services should be helping Mom get on the right track. The police should be protecting Eleanor and her family. Teachers should be standing up for her. Foster parents should be providing a safe place for Eleanor and her siblings to live while the whole mess is sorted. While it may not be this way in the the book, we should be striving every day to make it this way in the real world.

The second thread in Eleanor and Park is a love story. It's about two teens slowly realizing that they are smitten with each other, and all the clumsy, terrifying and euphoric feelings that go with this. I'm not sure if teens today can relate to this story, but man, I could. It's about capturing the moment when you first realize your crushing, or holding another's hand, or naming your relationship or uttering that first I Love You. It's about the self doubt that comes with recognizing every flaw of your own, yet seeing the other as flawless. It's beautiful and scary and serious and adorable and from the outside it looks completely ridiculous. Such is the power of the potent drug that is love.

Perhaps you were a smooth teenager who gracefully traversed the mine field that is young love. In that case, skip this book. But if you weathered the storm and want a little reminder of what those awkward, amazing moments were like, give the book a read.

The whole time I was listening to this book I kept thinking about this short film. I think it elegantly captures the what the two main characters are going through. Here, enjoy:

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