I just finished reading the book Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell [released in early 2013]. A while back I remember John Green saying some good things about it, and so I thought I'd give it a try. The book that I started writing for NANOWRIMO is a young adult (wrote a solid 45k words) and I have been trying to get a more solid grasp on the genre.
Eleanor & Park is a love story involving two 16 year-old kids from Omaha, Nebraska circa 1986. The cover of the book led me to believe that it would most likely be a smart and quirky little teen drama (the art looks similar in style to something by Wes Anderson or Demetri Martin), but I actually found that it was much more down-to-earth than anticipated. A lot of teen novels I've read in the last few years featured characters that were either too bland, or much smarter and funnier than any realistic teenager (I know some teenagers are smart but it gets annoying when author's make them all talk like they belong in a Noah Baumbach film). In Eleanor and Park, the characters aren't only fleshed out, but also very average. Neither Eleanor nor Park are distinctly attractive in the conventional sense. They aren't specifically that smart (apart from Eleanor's good grades) or that popular either. This book is a true teen love story "warts and all" (I really hate this phrase but it does fit here). Rowell makes many allusions and references to Romeo and Juliet, and tries to present an alternative and fleshed out counterpoint to the classic Shakespeare tragedy. Park is a Asian-american kid who loves martial arts and comic books. Eleanor is the frumpy and poor new girl who comes from a big, problematic family. And neither of them can really imagine a life outside of the suburbs of Omaha, Nebraska.
The plot of Eleanor & Park, like its characters; is also realistic. Not much that happens feels out of the realm of reality. There aren't any crazy, rich aunts (i.e. 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson) or 19 ex-girlfriends all named Katherine (An Abundance of Katherines by John Green). Eleanor & Park gives the audience something more personal and reflective, with a lot of breathing room. It reminded me of another young adult novel that dealt with similar issues of poverty and class differences; The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. The narrative switches back and forth between Park and Eleanor quite often throughout the text, giving you a good idea about what is important to the characters and what their day-to-day lives are like. Also, given that Eleanor & Park takes place in the '80s, there are no cell phones or social networks. If a character can't call another on their land-line, they either walk to their friend's house or just wait to see them at school on Monday. These kind of outdated communication restrictions were a nice change of pace from most contemporary novels that work to keep up with how teenagers interact through new technology. This time period also makes way for plenty of great references to music, movies, and comics of the time.
Of course there were certain parts in the middle where it felt a little aimless and slow. And like any other young adult love story it had its share of sappy moments, but the book isn't really targeted at my demographic to begin with (Male 18-34), so I tried not to let that get to me.
Overall I believe it is an interesting read and would be a great fit for any 10th grade summer reading list. If you are at all interested in young adult fiction, I would highly recommend it. If you don't think this book is for you, I highly recommend picking up The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. It is possibly the best thing that contemporary young adult fiction has to offer and gives a great insight into the difficulties of growing up on an Indian reservation.