The Scruffy Rube’s #CBR Review #36: Eleanor and Park

 

I’m the guy who hated Romeo and Juliet (spare me captain boner and lady dumbass). I’m the guy who hated Wuthering Heights (go jump off a moor Heathcliff, I like the cat better anyway). I’m the guy who shakes his head at every protestation of love I ever hear from students, every hand-holding, sweetly embracing pair of fools who will end up in tears in just a few weeks.

I’m also the guy who nearly broke down crying at this book. Rainbow Rowell doesn’t try to oversell the seriousness of the relationship, it’s not life or death–but it may feel that way. She doesn’t try to make her characters more mature than their years (they seem downright childish at times), nor does she make it infantile crushing. You have to root for a pair of kids who seem so familiar to us all and so eager to live for the sake of living.

It’s a supremely sweet story, honest and exhilirating and a little bit brutal…just like teenage romance is.

 

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The Scruffy Rube’s #CBR5 Review #11: The Marriage Plot

For other thoughts on this book, the Monkees and how it all relates to Giacommo Puccini, read my independent blog: The Scruffy Rube.

More and more writers want to have a little something to satisfy everyone.

Jeffrey Eugenides (on the other hand) makes a meal out of not satisfying everyone. Satisfaction, after all, is entirely within the perception of the individual. Happiness, true rapturous happiness, is something reserved for the “happily ever after” endings of fairy tales and romance novels. And therein lies the focus of his most recent work: The Marriage Plot.

Take those peppy, cheery, “and everyone got married and had a wonderful life” stories from the late 18th century and plop it down on top of 1980s American uncertainty. Would Lizzie Bennett really want to find her way into Mr. Darcy’s arms, if employment were a viable option for a young woman? Would Heathcliffe wander the moors–woefully disconsolate–when he could just as easily go to a singles bar?

Eugenides knows the answer (I suspect that 98% of anyone reading this review does too), but he still drags us along through 406 pages of characters discovering what the Monkees once sang and we have all long suspected: “Love was only true in fairy tales”. That’s where Madeleine Hanna, directionless post-grad, wants to live: amid the fairy tale romances of the Brontes, Austens and Eliots of the literary canon. She makes a convenient female protagonist and even has to choose between two distinctive suitors: the Heathcliffian tortured soul (now rightly diagnosed as manic-depressive) Leonard Bankhead, and the aloof, Edmund Bertram (the beloved man of Mansfield Park) stand-in: Mitchell Grammaticus. In the end, Madeleine must decide whether to perpetuate this mash-up of archaic literary living, or to step out into the brave new world of empowered-women and independent living.

I appreciate the mash-up, I do. I appreciate the analysis, the brutal frankness, the irredeemable humanity of our three main characters. But I’m an Austen fan. I’m a romance/true love fan. Heck, I’m a Monkees fan. And though Eugendies presents a solid story to support his argument (one that fans of his writing or cynics of romance will undoubtedly enjoy), I want characters to find satisfaction both in themselves and in true love! I want them to see a face…and become believers.

ElCicco #CBR5 Review #26: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

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I loved this YA novel about a couple of 16 year olds falling in love over comic books and music in mid-1980s Omaha. This novel has broad appeal — for teens because it deals with typical themes of angst, being misunderstood, dealing with obnoxious peers and parents who seem not to know you at all. For their parents, who were teens in the ’80s, it’s a wonderful trip back to the time when The Smiths were new music and The Watchmen was just coming out in weekly installments.

Eleanor is an unusual girl who stands out from the moment she gets on the bus. Her size (larger than other girls), her hair (long red curls) and her clothes (mens clothing accessorized with ribbons, patches and safety pins) make her an immediate target. No one will let her sit down and Park, who has been listening to his Walkman and trying not to get involved, is not eager to give up the empty spot next to him until the tension becomes all too much and he says to her, “Jesus-fuck … just sit down” and makes room. Not exactly an auspicious beginning to a romance. But as the weeks roll by, Park notices that as he reads his comics, Eleanor is reading them, too. Eventually, he has the nerve to speak with her, discuss and share music and comics with her and fall in love.

This sounds pretty blasé and mundane, but it isn’t for a few reasons. First, Eleanor’s home situation is rough. She has only just returned home after her step-father kicked her out for a year. Second, Eleanor and her family (mom, step-father and four other sibs) are poor. She doesn’t have a toothbrush, soap, proper food. etc. Third, Park is Korean-American in a very white all-American town. His father was a soldier and spent time in Korea, where he met and married his mother. Fourth, Park does not quite measure up to his father’s standards and he knows it. Finally, Park is on good terms with most of the cool kids at school, the complete opposite of Eleanor. Both Eleanor and Park feel that they have to hide their relationship, and for Eleanor in particular there is real danger in her parents’ discovering it.

The writing is so wonderful, I didn’t want to put this down until I had finished. Rowell can make you laugh and want to cry along with her protagonists. On Park’s quirkiness: “Park hated football. He cried when his dad took him pheasant hunting. Nobody in the neighborhood could ever tell who he was dressed as on Halloween. (‘I’m Doctor Who.’ ‘I’m Harpo Marx.’ ‘I’m Count Floyd.’)” Eleanor’s impression of Park’s car: “The Impala might not look pervy on the outside … but the inside was a different story. The front seat was almost as big as Eleanor’s bed, and the backseat was an Erica Jong novel just waiting to happen.” My favorite scene involves Park and his mother on Christmas Eve, after they’ve seen Eleanor and her family at the supermarket. Park’s mother had thought of Eleanor as a weird white girl and wasn’t pleased that Park was bringing her home after school. After seeing that Eleanor’s family is large and poor, like her own family had been, she tells Park, “I’m sorry for how I welcomed your Eleanor.”

This is a really wonderful novel not just for teens but for anyone who went to high school and fell in love, and for anyone who was young in the 1980s. And now I really wish I could find my old mix tapes!

Malin’s #CBR5 Review #47: Briar Rose by Jane Yolen

Rebecca, or Becca, is the youngest of three sisters, and has always been captivated by her grandmother Gemma’s unusual version of Briar Rose, or Sleeping Beauty. Even after her older sisters got sick of hearing it, she would ask her grandmother to tell it. So when her grandmother claims to actually have been Briar Rose on her deathbed, making Becca promise to find out the truth about her family background and the castle she came from, the rest of the family, especially her sisters, are scornful and disbelieving. As Becca starts looking into her grandmother’s past, she realises that no one in the family really knew who Gemma was, or where she came from.

Aided by the handsome editor at the independent newspaper where she works, Becca starts looking into her grandmother’s past, and the claims that her story of Briar Rose is true. Her quest to find her family’s origins take her to first through refugee records in the US, then to Europe, and Poland, and the remains of the concentration camps of the Second World War. More on my blog.