I have come up with so many embarrassing puns about the name Rainbow Rowell that I just couldn't bear to put in the subject line. It's a woman's name; I don't mean to make fun, I just want to be clever. So Rainbow Rowell, if you ever make your way here after you read the thousands of other rave reviews of your recent book, I apologize.
Everyone was telling me how good Eleanor & Park was, but I had to wait for it from the library. Somehow, the library patrons all seem to have missed her first novel, Attachments, so I snagged it and fell in love.
Lincoln works nights in the IT department at a newspaper in 1999. The rather paranoid owners of the paper want to ensure that their employees are not misusing their fancy new technology (like email). Lincoln's job is to make sure the servers don't crash and read people's email. It is, needless to say, kind of a depressing job.
Lincoln isn't exactly depressed. He's just sort of drifting. He's been in college for a dozen years, and now he's back living at his mom's house. He never quite got over his first girlfriend, and he doesn't quite know what he'd like to do.
Reluctantly reading his daylight-inhabiting coworkers' emails, he gets to know Beth, whose rock star boyfriend might not be right for her, and whose best friend Jennifer isn't sure if she wants kids, or if her ambivalence will cost her marriage. Lincoln falls for Beth, with the slight complication that they've never met, and that every email he reads is a little betrayal of this woman he so wants to meet.
I loved reading this book. Beth and Jennifer are so much fun, their emails so funny and sweet, their friendship so real--they support each other, question each other's bad choices, even get annoyed with each other. I liked Lincoln, too, and his comfortable, laissez faire attitude was as uncomfortably familiar as anything. Even the fact that he's reading her email didn't bother me that much--though objectively it's kind of gross--probably because a) I'm an oversharer, and b) the voyeuristic part of reading the book in the first place muted the effect for me. I didn't feel bad for reading their emails, so it didn't feel bad that he did it, either.
This is the part of the review that I'm never sure what to do with, though. Spoiler alert, I guess? This is the beginning of the spoiler alert, so this is where you should stop reading if you don't want any spoiling at all. Because I have to tell you, the end of this book kind of sucked. Like, not unsatisfying--it's the ending you wanted. But I couldn't figure out as I was reading how the book was going to get there fairly, resolving all the issues.
And the answer is, magic. Well, the magic of authorial intent. Poof, everything is resolved! After the very real, very human build up, it was a huge letdown.
I loved it enough, though, to head straight into Eleanor & Park when my library hold came up. And let me tell you, all those other people who've already told you to read this book? They're right. You should read this book. High school romance, falling for someone you just met, cool kids drama--it even takes place on the school bus, for crying out loud--and I was really expecting I would have to be bored to tears here.
But oh, no. Part of the whole point of the book is about putting that kind of high school bull into perspective. Explicitly, it's about what it's like to be different--good different, okay different, bad different, hard-to-explain different--but implicitly, it's about the fact that all those other opinions both do and don't matter. You have to live through high school, and then after that you have to live in the world that really exists.
And your internal life, your wants and goals, they're big and important and they mean a lot, but they don't exist in a vacuum. Your parents, your classmates, your friends and even enemies, they all shape your life and they matter. Eleanor & Park shows you that we don't exist in a vacuum, however much we might think that's better. And really, in the end, it's not.
Also? Best love story. Best. And I'd like to point out that the overly-self-conscious blurb of dialogue that's on the back of the book--about Jerry Lee Lewis and Bono and Romeo and Juliet? That was precious and it put me off the book, but that's not what the book is like. These are NOT ironic, tough, too-smart kids bluffing their way through. These are sensitive, skittish kids, somehow, magically, finding each other.
In short, Eleanor & Park--go read this book right now.