Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

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“Holding Eleanor’s hand was like holding a butterfly. Or a heartbeat. Like holding something complete, and completely alive." — Rainbow Rowell, Eleanor & Park

After reading Fangirl, I knew I was hooked on Rainbow Rowell. She is an extraordinary author of young adult books, and after I read the raving review of Eleanor & Park by John Green in The New York Times, I knew I was about to fall in love.

Eleanor & Park is profoundly raw and intense. Green got it right when he said there's nothing quite like this beautiful, haunting love story. The book is told in alternating limited third-person voices, sometimes from the voice of Eleanor: A "big girl" with bright red hair and all the wrong clothes; and Park: a half-Korean kid with a passion for good music and comic books. The book is set in Omaha, 1986, and the story unfolds when Eleanor and Park meet, begrudgingly, on the school bus.

Their romance slowly builds over mixed tapes and comic books, and the entire thing is awkwardly endearing. The story is clearly about the fragile love of two misfits, two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds that—as Green so poignantly puts it—are up against the world, which is the real obstacle when you're sixteen and in love. Just when you think you’ve read it all before, Eleanor & Park will leave you breathless.

It's been a long time since I've read contemporary fiction written by an author who totally and completely remembers what it's like to be young and in love. I'm not talking fuzzy-feel-good stuff here, I'm talking first-love, soul-crushing-beyond-butterflies, can't-be-without-you first love that makes me think of Annie Dillard's An American Childhood. You know the one: the chapter when she describes her sixteenth year and how she loved her first love.

"I loved my boyfriend so tenderly, I thought I must transmogrify into vapor. It would take spectroscopic analysis to locate my molecules in thin air. No possible way of holding him was close enough. Nothing could cure this bad case of gentleness except, perhaps, violence: maybe if he swung me by the legs and split my skull on a tree? Would that ease this insane wish to kiss too much his eyelids' outer corners and his temples, as if I could love up his brain?"

No, Eleanor & Park is not nearly as grandiose, but it is fragile and pure and raw and heartbreaking; it makes every obstacle they face, especially Eleanor's step-father, an even greater betrayal. I also have to agree with John Green (his review really does say it all, folks!) that Park's parents are so wonderfully portrayed, or the two best-drawn parents I can remember in a young adult novel. This book was adorable, heartwarming and heartbreaking all at the same time, but it was also honest and vulnerable—almost uncomfortably so. The awkwardness makes these two characters remarkably real.

That said, GO READ THIS BOOK! And gush over this Danish folk song inspired by Eleanor & Park. . . .