The Piedmont Highlander

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The Piedmont Highlander

The Piedmont Highlander

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April 18, 2024

From Lizzy’s shelf: Eleanor & Park

Screen Shot 2013-05-07 at 12.42.03 PMWhen the owner of a bookstore suggests that you buy a book, I’ve found that it’s best to take their advice. Many of my personal favorites were recommended to me by Kathleen Caldwell, the owner of A Great Good Place for Books in Montclair. The last time I stopped in, Kathleen’s pick for me was Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. This is an intensely awkward love story set in 1986 between two misfits, and it made me understand just how horribly uncomfortable teenage love can be. For the first fifty pages of the novel, Park and Eleanor do not exchange a single word as they sit next to each other on the bus each day.

However, the pace of the story picks up after that point. Narrated by the two teens in alternating chapters, the home lives of both are revealed to be messier than they appear. Eleanor has a verbally abusive, drunken stepfather and lives in thinly veiled poverty, whereas Park’s quiet suburban life hides his confusion about being half-Korean in a very white area. Their relationship becomes messier as they try to balance their increasing need for each other with the negative social pressures that they feel, as well as their fears of revealing too much of themselves to each other. I felt sympathy for both characters, and found their cautious encounters equally cringe-inducing and cute, heading more towards sweet as they became more comfortable.

Rowell captures the two very different voices of her main characters and delivers poignant moments that truthfully express what high school and life is like. Though classified as young adult literature, this novel is by no means light reading, and it is excellent. I highly recommend it, and you can pick up a copy from Kathleen at A Great Good Place for Books in Montclair Village.

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