When Nicole listed Eleanor & Park as a choice for our December book club, I was really intrigued by the storyline. Although we didn’t ultimately select it, I added it to my ever-growing list of things to read…eventually. Almost immediately afterward, I began seeing multiple articles and blog posts raving about how good it was, so I decided to bump it up to the top of the list.
Well, once I finished Eleanor & Park (more on that in a second), I couldn’t get enough of Rainbow Rowell’s writing style. I’ll admit I tend to go through phases with my reading – historical fiction, dystopian YA and fantasy stories most often, with the occasional bout of chick lit thrown in for good measure. But it doesn’t often happen with three different books from the same author.
The interesting thing about Rainbow Rowell (besides her name, which is so cool) is that even though all three of her currently published books are about people who fall in love, they take place in different time periods (1986, 1999, 2011) with characters of varying ages (16, 18, 28). Plus, the characters in each are so uniquely quirky and fascinating that you never get the sense you are reading the same story, repackaged. The themes she explores are universal – whether you relate to the protagonist(s) or a supporting character, there will very likely be a conversation or experience in one of her stories that has you screaming, “Yes! I know exactly what she’s talking about!”
(Note: That wasn’t meant to be an admission that I talk to myself while reading, but…it happens.)
It’s always a bit risky, I think, to read another book by the same author right after finishing one you really, really enjoyed. These books were a definite exception. Instead of the way I traditionally do reviews, I thought I’d talk a bit about each of them.
Bono met his wife in high school, Park says.
So did Jerry Lee Lewis, Eleanor answers.
I’m not kidding, he says.
You should be, she says, we’re 16.
What about Romeo and Juliet?
Shallow, confused, then dead.
I love you, Park says.
Wherefore art thou, Eleanor answers.
I’m not kidding, he says.
You should be.
Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love—and just how hard it pulled you under.
This Amazon synopsis barely scratches the surface of what the book is about, in my opinion. It’s definitely set in the 80s (awesome) and definitely about two 16-year-olds who fall in love (also awesome – though I may be biased in that regard). That said, there are many serious issues that Rowell explores: bullying at school, low self-esteem, domestic abuse. Those three in and of themselves should tell you that this is not just another teen read.
What I loved the most were the conversations between Eleanor and Park on the bus. Eleanor is the new girl at school who immediately doesn’t fit in because of her crazy hair and eccentric fashion sense. Not to mention, she has a very negative self-image (an interesting post about that here) and has it pretty rough at home. So when a cute, semi-popular guy like Park slowly, but surely starts to take interest in her, it’s not going to be easy for Eleanor to know how to reciprocate.
There are scenes that are hard to read, scenes that will make you laugh and scenes that will make your heart want to burst. If you’re anything like me, it will keep you captivated from the first page.
One of my favorite quotes:
“He loved how much they loved each other. It was the thing he thought about when he woke up scared in the middle of the night. Not that they loved him – they were his parents, they had to love him. That they loved each other. They didn’t have to do that.”
Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan, but for Cath, being a fan is her life – and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.
Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.
Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.
Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words…And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.
For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?
Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?
And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?
If you’re a Harry Potter fan, read fan fiction or have ever just been obsessed with a book series, you will get a kick out of this novel. The story is told from Cath’s perspective but includes a lot of “excerpts” from the fictional Simon Snow series that she loves, as well as her own fan fiction about the two main characters, Simon and Baz. Her stories are extremely popular even though, as her professor argues, it doesn’t technically count as real writing (highly debatable).
On first impression it would be easy to categorize this book as one about the collegiate experience, but once again it goes far beyond the stereotype, and Cath is definitely not your cliché, party-going freshman. She is anxious, introverted…in other words, I may be biased on this one, too.
My favorite part about Fangirl was how different each relationship was between Cath and the other characters. Her roommate Reagan and Reagan’s best friend Levi are hilarious. Her sister, Wren, can be annoying but also compassionate, and her dad is an unstable but sweet man who you can’t help but worry about, too. Not surprisingly, I also loved how reading and writing played a large part.
One of my favorite quotes:
“Sometimes writing is running downhill, your fingers jerking behind you on the keyboard the way your legs do when they can’t quite keep up with gravity. Cath fell and fell, leaving a trail of messy words and bad similes behind her.”
Beth Fremont and Jennifer Scribner-Snyder know that somebody is monitoring their work email. (Everybody in the newsroom knows. It’s company policy.) But they can’t quite bring themselves to take it seriously. They go on sending each other endless and endlessly hilarious emails, discussing every aspect of their personal lives.
Meanwhile, Lincoln O’Neill can’t believe this is his job now – reading other people’s email. When he applied to be “internet security officer,” he pictured himself building firewalls and crushing hackers – not writing up a report every time a sports reporter forwards a dirty joke.
When Lincoln comes across Beth’s and Jennifer’s messages, he knows he should turn them in. But he can’t help being entertained – and captivated – by their stories.
By the time Lincoln realizes he’s falling for Beth, it’s way too late to introduce himself.
What would he say…?
I read this one last, and to be honest thought the synopsis sounded creepy. But once again, I found myself unable to stop reading. There was so much to love about the setting of this book for me: 1999 at a newspaper. There was Y2K, the-apocalypse-is-coming craziness, as well as the obvious signs of journalism approaching the end of an era (i.e. being forced to make way for the good ol’ World Wide Web). It brought me right back to my fall 2005 classes at Medill, when I had one professor who raved about RSS feeds and blogs (we thought he was crazy) and several others who thought the web trends would never last. But I digress.
I liked the fact that the chapters switched back and forth between Jennifer’s and Beth’s email correspondence to Lincoln, who offered a fresh male perspective that isn’t often heard in a love story. The friendship between Beth and Jennifer may have been my favorite part. Their personalities were very different, but in a complementary way that provided amusement on both sides. It reminded me of the many online/text conversations I’ve had with my own friends.
One of my favorite quotes:
“Lincoln felt like he’d dunked his head into a sink full of Pop Rocks and turned on the water.”
Basically, I finished these three books feeling like Rainbow Rowell must be reading both my email and my innermost thoughts to be able to consistently create characters and stories that, if I couldn’t relate to fully, I could see shades of myself in regardless of age or time period (or gender, for that matter). I can’t promise your experience will be the same, but I’d love for you to let me know if it is.
Have you read any of Rainbow Rowell’s books? If so, what did you think?