Why have I not read Rainbow Rowell until now? Why have I not listened to what everyone in CBR has been saying about Rowell for years?
Eleanor & Park is my first foray into Rowell’s writing world, and I now need to consume everything she’s ever written. Both Faintingviolet and Crystalclear are big fans of hers, but as I tend to have a hard time with YA, I’ve steered clear. Which was a MISTAKE! Eleanor & Park is the most perfect story I’ve encountered in a while. Rowell’s ability to get to the heart of these teenagers in such a palpable and real way took me by surprise. She’s thrown out all the usual trappings of the YA love story, and in their place was this incredibly visceral window into the lives of real teenagers. Everything about this story brought me back to my childhood, even though I came of age in the early 2000s and not the 80s, this book encapsulated the timeless parts of teenagehood. I felt for both Eleanor and Park in their wants and needs as they struggle to navigate the world of becoming one’s own person while still being beholden to the powers at home. I enjoyed how Rowell juxtaposed Park’s ‘normal’ family upbringing with Eleanor’s tumultuous situation, showcasing the different aspects of teenage life. Eleanor’s abusive home and her stuck mother was so realistic and nuanced, it hurt to read, and the ending about destroyed me. Rowell’s uncanny ability to strip everything away and get to the heart of her characters using both perspectives is brilliant and moving in a way no other YA I’ve encountered has been able to do for me.
With all the fantastic that this book accomplishes, I was surprised to see it on the banned/challenged books list. Clocking in at number 10 as one of the most challenged books of 2017, parents in several school districts have been trying to ban Eleanor & Park from school libraries since 2014. Their biggest complaint: foul language. Not the fact that Eleanor’s step-dad is a drunk and an abuser, not that Eleanor’s mercilessly bullied at school….they want it banned because the word ‘f*ck’ is used 60 times. What they fail to notice is that neither titular character ever swears, Eleanor going so far as to censor herself in her own head. The characters around them curse, namely Eleanor’s abusive step-father, and Park’s neighborhood bully, Steve. The choice to deploy cursing in this way specifies the type of society Park and Eleanor live in and their desperate need to escape, whether that’s literal in Eleanor’s case, or mentally, in Park’s.
Personally, my feeling is that parents want this book banned, not because of the cursing, but because it unearths very real (and uncomfortable) human issues that might hit a little close to home. Which are the very reasons why teenagers should be allowed to read it.
5 stars for impeccable storytelling.
Bingo Square: Banned Books
Bingo Down: Youths!, Illustrated, Classics, Rainbow Flag, Banned Books