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Eleanor & Park

Rainbow Rowell's love story is the best young adult title to be released this year.

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Eleanor & Park,
by Rainbow Rowell,
St. Martin's Press,
336 pp.

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Of all the young adult novels published in 2013, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell has emerged as the clear favorite of fans and critics alike. It’s the tale of two 16-year-old misfits falling in love during one school year in 1986. As befits a love story set to punk rock and mixtapes, it’s intense and lyrical.

Eleanor Douglas is new in Omaha. A year after her alcoholic stepfather kicked her out of the house, she’s moved back in with her siblings, mother, and stepdad Richie. Richie rules the house with fear, invective, and physical abuse, and he’s not exactly pleased to have her back.

Everything about Eleanor is big (“At sixteen, Eleanor was already built like she ran a medieval pub”) except her self-worth, worn down by years of abuse and abandonment. Her peers torment her for her wild red hair and oddball style (curtain tassels in her hair, men’s spiked golf shoes), and someone keeps writing threateningly sexual messages on her notebooks.

Park Sheridan is half Korean, half Irish-American. He’s lived a sort of Mayberry life: His parents have always been madly in love, his grandparents live down the street, and he’s gone to school with the same kids his whole life. He’s well-versed in comic books, taekwondo, and rock music, and his Walkman is full of '80s punk: Joy Division, The Cure, The Misfits, The Smiths.

(Side note about the music in "Eleanor & Park": Shortly after the book came out, Rowell blogged about her own playlists, full of Park’s favorite songs plus mood-setting music. For those who’ve read "Eleanor & Park" and for those who haven’t (but should!), the playlists are a great companion.)

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