I wish I knew who to thank, because I am confident that I picked up Eleanor & Park not on a whim, but at the enthusiastic urging of a fellow book nerd.
I read it in a day and fell in mad, gushy love with this YA novel. This never happens.
I read very few young adult novels that I’d call great–hey, many of them aren’t even good–but Eleanor and Park is great. It’s taken me a little while to understand why.
The characters were offbeat and likable; the storyline kept me turning the pages. But the framing on this book is genius, and it catapults the novel from solid stuff to best-of-the-year material.
You find out on page 1 that this story of young love doesn’t have a happy ending. On page 44, you find out it’s because of Shakespeare. Or rather, that the book can’t reach greatness without him. A couple of pointed references to Romeo and Juliet–right in the middle of Eleanor and Park’s high school English class, of course–is all it takes:
“No!” Mr. Stessman said. “Someone else, someone with a heart. Mr. Sheridan, what beats in your chest? Tell us, why has Romeo and Juliet survived four hundred years?”
Park hated talking in class. Eleanor frowned at him, then looked away. He felt himself blush.
“Because . . .” he said quietly, looking at his desk, “because people want to remember what it’s like to be young? And in love?”
Mr. Stessman leaned back against the blackboard and rubbed his beard.
“Is that right?” Park asked.
I won’t spoil the book by spelling the rest out for you. Just know that Rowell brilliantly (and with a light touch) frames what the book’s about, and this framing turns a good book into a great one. (The writer in me is still marveling at how two hundred words about Shakespeare manage to utterly transform the book.)
As Wordsworth wrote, “We half-create the world we see.” Framing matters–in life and in books–and it’s a pleasure to see it done well.
Now for the disclaimers: I’m sure not all of you will like Eleanor and Park. To start, it’s a YA novel, and there’s a good bit of language. But if you’re at all curious, go grab a copy, and then come back and tell me what you think. (Rowell’s style reminds me of John Green: if you like him, you’ll like E&P.) If you’ve already read it, I want to hear your thoughts.
Hit me with your thoughts on Eleanor and Park (or Shakespeare, if you’re feeling nerdy). I’d also love to generate a list of books that benefit from interesting framing. Whatcha got? (Two more leap to mind for me: When You Reach Me, which leans heavily on A Wrinkle in Time, and Bel Canto, in which you also find out how the story ends on page 1).
Books mentioned in this post: