Eleanor’s life is dire. Her mother has married a terrible person and the living conditions for her and her siblings are deplorable. Eleanor’s options for getting out of the house are limited, which is how she finds herself on a bus one morning on the way to yet another new school.
Park’s life isn’t terrible. But he does his best to avoid the bullies on his bus and anything that would make his half Asian, comic book and punk rock loving self a target. He isn’t always successful. On the ill-fated morning when the new girl, who isn’t small, has crazy frizzy red hair and strange outfits, climbs the bus steps and the only open seat is next to him, he knows he is going to be in for it again.
A friendship and maybe more was born on that bus; it wasn’t easy and it wasn’t quick but comic books and music are traded, mutual understanding developed and some secrets shared.
If John Green is the King of contemporary young adult novels, then Rainbow Rowell is or will soon be the Queen. She hasn’t been around for long but her novels, like Green’s, are smart and thoughtful and don’t treat the reader with patronizing neglect.
The characters are quirky and real and true underdogs. And that is possibly what makes Rowell’s books a target. The Parents Action League, states that “Eleanor & Park” is “…littered with extreme profanity and age-inappropriate subject matter that should never be put into the hands and minds of minor children, much less promoted by the educational institutions and staff we entrust to teach and protect our children.”
Anyone who has spent time in a building full of teenagers or has ever been a teenager will find truth and reality in Rowell’s work. When people don’t live in poverty or abusive situations or when we have enough programs readily available to lift women and child out of the hellacious situations where they too often find themselves, when we don’t need to know about these situations anymore or need to develop empathy when faced with their reality, when we are lucky enough to not live in that house ourselves, then Rowell’s kind of work won’t be necessary. It will not have an audience. We won’t need to put it “…into the hand and minds of minor children.” Until we find ourselves in that utopic state, I will personally be promoting Eleanor and Park to every teenager and adult I know.