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A Reading Vocation

"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton

This is where I chronicle my reading life.  I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.


Book 9/100: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor and Park - Rainbow Rowell

I resisted this book for a LONG TIME. I resisted buying it for my library, thinking "modern teens" wouldn't be interested in a romance that takes place around 80s music (I was wrong -- don't worry, I got the book on the shelves!). But even as the hype continued to build and the accolades piled up, I resisted reading it. I probably would have resisted forever, too, except that it came up as a book club read. Well, okay, I'm nothing if not dutiful, so I finally read it.

All that resistance followed me right into my reading (listening) experience, and it took me about half the book to warm up to it. I was annoyed by Eleanor's reticence in the face of Park's total acceptance of her, even though I thought it was believable considering what her character had been through. That is, I think that is exactly how a girl with Eleanor's experiences would have handled a burgeoning romance that felt too good to be true, but it was still somewhat excruciating as a listener. It also took me a while to accept that Park would remain interested despite Eleanor's prickliness, but that's probably just because I never knew anyone as good as Park in high school!

Still, both Eleanor and Park felt like real high schoolers to me, and their families felt like real families. I wrote in my review of [book:Fangirl|16068905] that when Rainbow Rowell gets something right, she gets it SO RIGHT, and in this case, she's nailed the struggles and setbacks of living in a low-income, volatile family, particularly the interactions with her siblings with their varying degrees of neediness and desperation.

And although this book is a romance and some parts of it are almost unbearably sweet and tender, it also captures those awkward moments that seem to go nowhere -- the span of empty minutes when there is nothing to say, the letdown after you cross another threshold and find yourself unsure of exactly what to do there. Still, I felt fairly certain this was going to end up being a three-star book for me, that I would somehow manage to bypass all the "hype."

But somehow -- and I'm not sure the exact moment when it began to happen -- I realized that Rainbow Rowell was holding my heart in her hands. I suddenly cared SO MUCH about what happened to these two, silently begging her "not to mess this up." I knew it was the kind of book that, if it broke my heart, would break it badly enough to make me hate the book for making me care so much. Luckily, the ending struck just the right balance between bitter and sweet, between realistic and hopeful, with a touch of the kind of ambiguity I like best. It left me crying in my kitchen and somewhat angry that it could make me feel so much despite all my resistance, but deep down, isn't that exactly the experience we hope for when we open a book?