Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Reader Response: Eleanor & Park Pt. 1

A free-form reader response to Eleanor & Park for my Teen Materials class. This is the Historical Fiction title our whole class is reading.

** Spoilers everywhere! ** 

Pre-Reading

I knew three things before picking this up:
  1. The author is from Omaha which is where I take Library Science grad classes.
  2. E&P was voted 2013's best YA fiction by GoodReads users.
  3. It is also a Printz Honor book, which is the American Library Association's critical award for YA lit.
Sounds promising!

Chapter One

The brief flash-forward before Chapter One is a good hook. Park is going to become obsessed and then lose track of her.

"August 1986" is Historical Fiction? I suppose anything before the Internet revolution is a past age at this point. In my own library, I've been counting Historical Fiction as post-WWII, unless it's heavily focused on a large-scale historical event like the Civil Rights Movement.

The opening lines showing Park trying to ignore the "morons at the back of the bus" by listening to cassette tapes reinforces the time period, which is good (never thought I'd see Skinny Puppy referenced in a novel!), but I'm personally very turned off by school bus drama. Maybe that's because I saw so much and don't even want to think about it.

The dialog kicks off jarringly for me because of the language of the "morons" on the first three pages: fucking, fucking, shit, shit, dicklick, fucking, fuck, retarded, fucking, fucking, fucking, fucking. While this does a great job of reinforcing the characterization of the morons as morons, and I'm not morally offended, I un-enjoy reading or hearing unnecessary amounts for the situation. One or two "fucks" would have gotten the point across without making me quite so desperate to put on headphones myself. Maybe Rowell is just doing a really good job of making me identify with Park.

I didn't mind the awful racism from the morons so much because, again, it helped me sympathize with Park and it also gave me the back-story on his ethnicity without Park having to think about it himself.

Eleanor walking in was a relief. As excluded as Park was, there was a certain level of respect he had earned from the morons. Now here comes someone lacking even that, and Park has no intention to help her out. Park is kind of a jerk himself, but more in a sin of omission style. He's unwelcoming but not aggressively offensive. Now he has to be a dynamic character to go from this to his mindset in the flash-forward. I liked the first description of Eleanor as she struggles to find a seat:
"The girl just looked like exactly the sort of person this would happen to.

Not just new—but big and awkward. With crazy hair, bright red on top of curly. And she was dressed like...like she wanted people to look at her. Or  maybe she didn't get what a mess she was. She had on a plaid shirt, a man's shirt, with half a dozen weird necklaces hanging around her neck and scarves wrapped around her wrists. She reminded Park of a scarecrow or one of the trouble dolls his mom kept on her dresser. Like something that wouldn't survive in the wild."
After reading a few chapters, I told a friend that I probably would have stopped reading this book after the first chapter if it weren't assigned, butgoing backI was remembering the first few pages as the contents of the first chapter. Eleanor is interesting. Interesting enough that I would have kept on if I hadn't stopped earlier. For me, those first three pages are vital in my voluntary reading (not "pleasure reading" because I choose unpleasant reads on purpose sometimes). I've actually gone through a couple of shelves at Barnes & Noble, reading the first three pages of every novel to get a taste of what's there. Literary agents probably do something similar.

Chapter Two

I like lists. Eleanor is a list thinker. I like Eleanor already.

This like increased when it became obvious she's well read. There's some serious dysfunction going on in her family life, but it's not clear exactly what's going on. She doesn't conveniently have thoughts explaining it to the readers, which is more realistic.

Back-and-forth perspectives can be nice if both characters have a distinct voice. So far, these two do.

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