"I love you," he said.
She looked up at him, her eyes shiny and black, then looked away. "I know," she said.
He pulled one of his arms out from under her and traced her outline against the couch. he could spend all day like this, running his hand down her ribs, into her waist, out to her hips and back again...If he had all day, he would. If she weren't made of so many other miracles.
"You know?" he repeated. She smiled, so he kissed her. "You're not the Han Solo in this relationship, you know."
"I'm totally the Han Solo," she whispered. It was good to hear her. It was good to remember it was Eleanor under all this new flesh.
"Well, I"m not the Princess Leia," he said.
"Don't get so hung up on gender roles," Eleanor said.
 
Eleanor is a smart but shy outcast, struggling with enough personal and family problems to fill three after-school specials, the least of which is starting a new school. Park’s issues are less dramatic, but he still struggles with fitting in and getting along with his parents.  The two are forced to sit together on the bus, and end up bonding over comics, music, and a dislike for the idiots who also ride their bus.  Soon they form an unlikely friendship, and eventually a romantic relationship blossoms, though not without ever-growing complications.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell is a romance for people who don’t like romances.  (It’s still really good if you like romances, too.)  The novel boasts funny-but-realistic dialog and incredibly likeable characters.  The two narrators are so three-dimensional that you feel you’ve known them for years; it’s less like reading a romance and closer to simply watching two good friends discover how cool and amazing you already know they each are. On top of that, it features some of the steamiest hand-holding scenes put to paper. Seriously, it’s like the Fifty Shades of Grey of holding hands. (If you really think about it, though, holding hands is pretty steamy if you really like the hand you’re holding.)
 
The novel deals with issues of bullying and difficult family circumstances in very honest and direct ways, with all of the tough language and mature situations that those entail.  Because of this frankness, the book and its author garnered some extra attention last month, facing challenges in a Minnesota school district which ironically enough became news during Banned Books Week. It’s this honesty that makes the book so refreshing, though.  It’s the ability of Eleanor & Park (both the book and characters) to find happiness and connection in the midst of all the ugliness that life can throw at us that lifts the book above standard romantic cliché and become something simultaneously funny, honest, and beautifully life-affirming.
 
Sat, 10/31/2015 - 1:50pm