Eleanor & Park

We are in the middle of Banned Books Week, the library world’s celebration of the freedom to read. Each year, libraries and bookstores all over the country highlight the books that are most commonly challenged in our schools and libraries (see 2012’s most frequently challenged books here).  As librarians, we absolutely support parents’ rights to be involved with what their children are reading, and we encourage it, but the idea that one parent or group of people can decide what other people’s children CAN’T read is exactly what Banned Books Week is all about disputing.

One teen book that has been getting a lot of buzz lately is Rainbow Rowell’s recent misfit love story Eleanor & Park; Banned Books Week seemed like the perfect time to finally read the book that has been sitting on my nightstand for weeks. This year in Minnesota, parents who objected to language in the book and to it being used as a summer reading selection lobbied to remove the book from the list and to cancel scheduled visits from the author- for all students, not just their own children. 
In Eleanor & Park, we meet Park on the school bus, turning up his Walkman (it is 1986, after all) to try to drown out the crass language and harassing remarks of the kids at the back of the bus. When the new girl climbs on board, a chubby redhead – fiery, bright red, wild curls – with weird clothes, Park can spot a target, even before those kids in the back catch a glimpse of her. With no other seats on the bus, without thinking about it and what it might mean, Park hisses at her to sit in the seat next to him. What starts as a study in separation (no eye contact, no interaction), eases into a kind of friendship, which blossoms into love.
You know that advice about giving a book 50 pages to decide if you like it? Rowell didn’t even use all 50 – she had me in tears at page 46, when Park makes Eleanor the first of many mix tapes. Their individual stories build chapter by chapter, in alternating points of view. Park, half-Korean in Omaha, is a bit unusual, but manages to walk the line between the cool kids and the complete losers, while Eleanor faces a much harder time at home and at school. As ugly as the world around them can be, these are two people that you want to invite into your heart, that you’ll root for and want to visit again. And, while I understand that an individual, as a parent, may not feel that this is the book for their teen at this time, I think that this is one that so many teens can find comfort and kinship in, and it deserves a space on our shelves for all of those kids (and the lucky adults who find it as well!). 

Also available as an audiobook (channel Park and listen on headphones!).

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