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Merle

Merle

Eleanor & Park - Rainbow Rowell This is a cute teen romance that will hold a lot of appeal for adults who came of age in the 80s. I previously loved Rowell's [b:Fangirl|16068905|Fangirl|Rainbow Rowell|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1355886270s/16068905.jpg|21861351], and I didn't love this--perhaps predictably, since the romance was not why Fangirl stood out to me and is the whole point of this book--but it's a fast read and a perfectly decent choice if YA romance is your thing.

To its credit, Eleanor & Park is an unusual teen romance. Eleanor is overweight, dresses bizarrely, and has a terrible home life. Park is biracial and isn't comfortable with the traditionally masculine mold his father wants him to follow; he even realizes he likes wearing eyeliner. They bond over music and comic books, but the relationship doesn't go smoothly, mostly because of the serious issues Eleanor has to deal with. The book is divided into lots of short chapters and jumps back and forth between the two protagonists' points-of-view, but we get to know Eleanor much better than Park; she's a well-developed and realistic character, while he spends most of his time thinking about her and is as much dream-boyfriend as developed character. Meanwhile, this is Eleanor and Park's show, and most of the other characters are fairly flat, particularly the siblings and classmates.

Other good stuff: the dialogue is snappy and realistic, the family dynamics seem believable although often shunted to the sidelines, and the author hits the right notes with the awful adults in Eleanor's life, who are infuriating without being too over-the-top. And I appreciated that Eleanor takes her safety seriously and doesn't dither in a bad situation. On the other hand, a couple of the choices she makes at the end didn't make much sense to me; I had the same problem with Park's father's choice, which seems like weirdly irresponsible parenting. Many readers have taken issue with the way Eleanor cuts Park off at the end, which did seem odd to me, but I also wondered why she didn't try to stay with someone in Omaha (her father, for instance) rather than moving 6 hours away as Plan A. As for Park's father, I found it bizarre that he would allow his 16-year-old, who'd just gotten his license and barely driven unsupervised, to leave in the middle of the night to take Eleanor to an unfamiliar city 6 hours away. And to top it off, in a vehicle he knew Park had trouble driving! Sure, he seems to see this as a way to make Park prove his manliness, but I still can't credit it. I know kids' books are all about having their protagonists do things real kids wouldn't be allowed to, but this scenario is just too close to home for me to overlook. Also, the 80s pop culture references are a bit overdone; my unfamiliarity with them rendered some of the conversations nearly incomprehensible.

Overall, a perfectly decent choice if you're looking for YA romance, particularly one with a genuinely sweet relationship that doesn't romanticize abuse. It didn't make me swoon, but not many authors can do that, so don't let me stop you from picking it up if it sounds like your thing.