#FridayReads: “Eleanor and Park” by Rainbow Rowell

eprowellRainbow Rowell is coming to Pittsburgh next month (I already have my ticket!) so I’m binge reading all her books.

Eleanor and Park is a heartbreakingly depressing story about two misfit kids who find themselves in each other. Eleanor’s family is screwed up—her father is a deadbeat and her stepfather is worse. She doesn’t have basic amenities, like a toothbrush.

Park’s family seems perfect on the surface, but has its issues as well—for one, Park can never seem to do well enough for his father, especially compared to his athletic brother.

The two narrators for the audiobook version are excellent, and Eleanor’s narrator is the same woman who narrates Rowell’s newest novel, Landline (which is also fantastic).

I love that Eleanor and Park are not stickfigure beauty models. Park is half-Korean and Eleanor is a chubby red head. They are just like real teenagers. Even the bullies are multi-dimensional (one of Eleanor’s worst tormentors also happens to be Park’s long-time pseudo friend and neighbor).

And did I mention this book takes place in the ‘80s? It is full of bad hair, ridiculous clothing styles, the Walkman, mix tapes (Seriously… How do kids these days share music with their paramores? iTunes playlists?), and other nostalgic ‘80s things.

Watching the two worlds of these two very different but very similar teenagers collide is beautiful and also depressing. Life isn’t fair, and these kids don’t deserve what they get.

But that’s how it so often goes. The power in this novel isn’t that is has excellent verisimilitude, but that it shows that life doesn’t have to be like that. Our actions directly affect the people around us: colleagues, friends, family, even strangers.

If we are aware of what we’re doing and how it affects others, we can intentionally choose kindness.

I’m not naive enough to think being kind will solve all the world’s problems, but it will make the world a much better place to live for all of us.

So be kind, okay?

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