It’s about time that we talked about Rainbow Rowell on this blog. This post is long overdue, because she’s one of my favorite voices in YA right now. (Confession time: I haven’t read all her stuff. I’m currently working to remedy that.) However, what I’ve read of read of her stuff has utterly blown me away.
Her writing simultaneously rips my heart apart to stomp all over it and makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I always feel better after reading her writing, though, and I feel like that says a lot about her as a writer.
This trend held true with Eleanor and Park, which—as the title would suggest—tells the love story and coming of age of Eleanor, a rounder girl who’s moved back in with her family and has her walls up, and Park, a Korean boy who struggles with how others perceive him and his own masculinity. It was one of those stories that completely pulled me in, and I was barely able to put it down.
One of the things that I was most compelled by was the way that Rowell dealt with difficult topics with a delicate hand. She has this dead-on sort of writing that just understands the world and says things in a way that seems right. She writes in such a natural way that it makes it easy to skate through her writing without any bumps.
Rowell also takes care to be inclusive in her writing, and she seems to make an effort to make her stories more diverse, both in plot and characters.
The racial diversity helped to round out the characters but racial identity did not fully define Park, that is to say that he was more than just a Korean boy. That was an element of his identity, but it did not wholly define him. However, his race was also not merely brushed to the side. One of the most poignant scenes is when Park’s mother discussed what it was like to live in Korea and how she had to share everything, even though they didn’t have much. She asks if Park understands her and then says she’s happy he doesn’t, because she’s worked to give him a comfortable life.
Then there was the class diversity between the couple: Park came from a family where money was nothing more than a passing thought while Eleanor’s mother had just married a deadbeat and she and her four siblings were living just above the poverty line. Furthermore, the poverty was not merely an obstacle to their romance: it is a part of Eleanor’s life. She hides Park’s gifts so that her parents won’t know that they’re dating, and she struggles to admit to Park what she doesn’t have in her life. She was a different character because of her economic situation.
And then there was the physical diversity and Eleanor and Park’s struggle to love themselves. Eleanor is a large girl who has suffered abuse at the hands of her stepfather and bullying from girls at school. She struggles with body positivity and generally feeling safe around new people. Park is gangly and not traditionally masculine. He’s trying to care less what people think in order to feel more comfortable in his own skin. Though they both find it hard to trust others, they slowly grow together. They do not mock or doubt one another for their differences, and little by little, they’re happy together.
There are many different family situations, and relationships with friends, and goals, and morals, and it was overall just a book that was so saturated with difference, and that diversity made the interactions richer, and that was just so
refreshing to see. Rowell is delicate with her words and careful with her choices, and reading this book was a complete and total delight.
YA seems to be expanding in so many exciting ways, and Eleanor and Park is the perfect example of this. No matter how weird this year was, this was a year of more diverse books, and that is something to be celebrated.