Rummanah Aasi

Welcome to my new feature called Forbidden Reads! Join me in celebrating your freedom to read. My goal for this feature is to highlight challenged and/or banned books from each literary audience: children, YA, and adult. Not only will I be doing a review of the book, I will also include information as to where and why the book was challenged/banned. Today I'll be reviewing one of my favorite books of 2013, Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell.

Description: Set over the course of one school year in 1986, Eleanor and Park is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under.

Review: I've read many glowing reviews and heard lots of buzz for Rowell's Eleanor and Park, which made me hesitant to read it right away in fear that I wouldn't like it as much as I have been burned before with other hyped books. It languished on my Mount Everest-like to be read reading list for several months and was forgotten until it came back into the spotlight surrounding a controversy during Book Banned Week in Minnesota.
   Eleanor and Park is not your typical YA contemporary romance. It is abrasive, prickly, heart warming, tear-jerking, and heartbreaking look at imperfect first love. Eleanor and Park are an odd couple. They are both awkward misfits who feel comfortable lurking in the background and going unnoticed. They don't have a cute meet-up story. They meet vexed on the school bus, trapped into sitting together by a dearth of seats and their low social status.
  Park is the only half-Korean fan of punk and New Wave music at their high school. He is by no means popular nor gorgeous, but he benefits from his family's deep roots in their lower-middle-class neighborhood. Meanwhile, Eleanor's physical characteristics alone, wildly curly red mane and plus-sized frame, would make her stand out like a sore thumb and a target for bullies even if she weren't a new student, having just returned to her family after a year of couch-surfing following being thrown out by her odious drunkard of a stepfather, Richie.
  What draws Eleanor and Park together is their commonality of just surviving high school on a day by day basis and hopefully making it out alive. I loved how Eleanor and Park stand out physically and sartorially. Interestingly enough Rowell doesn't spend much time overly describing the physical features of her protagonists, however makes it an important aspect of their lives emotionally and economically. For example, Park always wearing band T-shirts whereas Eleanor is always displaying menswear from thrift stores.    
  Despite not meeting on the best of terms, Eleanor and Park grow attached to one another when they realize they share many interests. It is this small thread of friendship that continues to grow and strengthen throughout the book. Park wants to become part of Eleanor's life but is frustrated when he is unable to due to Eleanor's phobia of becoming attached to anything. Through Eleanor and Park's alternating voices, we get to see their insecurities such as Eleanor's survival of grim, abuse-plagued poverty and Park's own imperfect but loving family life. Rowell beautifully captures both the light and dark aspects of life. Though the ending is unusual for a romance, it fits perfectly for our protagonists.

Rating: 5 stars

Why it was challenged: On August 7, 2013 the Parent Action League of Anoka-Hennepen Independent School District 11 , the largest public school district in Minnesota, challenged Eleanor and Park and requested it to be removed from the school libraries after it was selected to be the high school voluntary reading program. The Parent Action League cited 227 instances of profanity in the book as well as crude and sexually charged material that was inappropriate for students. According to news article, Rowell's appearance at the Anoka County Library was cancelled when the library pulled its invite. The Anoka-Hennepin school district declined to pick up the speaker's fee the library had offered. Neither the public nor the school district responded to Rowell's offer to come for free and speak. On November 22, 2013 the Star Tribune reported that Eleanor and Park is kept on the library shelves at the Anoka High library shelves.

Words of Caution: There is strong language and crude sexual references in Eleanor and Park. The language is not used for shock value but rather demonstrates how emotionally and verbally abusive Eleanor's stepfather Richie is towards her family. Eleanor is also faced with strong language when she is bullied by some of her classmates. The language is also realistic of teenagers today. I didn't read anything new or shocking than what I usually hear just walking down the hallways of a high school.
 Alcohol is also mentioned in the book too because Richie is an alcoholic. There are only three heavy make-out sessions between Eleanor and Park that are spaced out throughout the book which is uncommon for contemporary YA romances. The characters stop short of sex because they both feel they are not ready. Given the context of the book and its themes, I would recommend this book to readers who are in high school and up.   

If you like this book try: How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standford, Sweethearts by Sara Zarr
7 Responses
  1. Unknown Says:

    Like you I loved this book and was shocked and outraged at what happened in Minnesota. I'll never understand the want or need to ban books but I love that you're bringing this to our attention even when it's not banned books week (or month).

  2. I wonder if the reason it got banned is because of the mixed race romance? Oh now I really have to read this book. Plus, the fact that you loved it really makes me want to read it! :)

  3. I loved Fangirl but personally thought Eleanor and Park was only okay, Rummanah. The romance just wasn't as passionate as I was expecting and I found the ending a bit too open-ended. I'm really glad you enjoyed this one though!

  4. I so need to read this. I have the audio book but keep forgetting about it. I loved Fangirl. I can't remember whether you read that one or not.

    And as a former resident of the Twin Cities, I'm saddened to see my adopted hometown get embroiled in a censor scandal. I'm glad the challenge didn't succeed. That school district is on the north west side of the Twin Cities metro area. I lived on the southeast side but we had similar challenges. One of them - furiously enough - was brought by my friend who had a kindergartner and was challenged a school library book for 5th graders. Don't ask me why. She's a very nice person whose political viewpoints I try to ignore. Even worse she subsequently got herself elected to the school board. Glad I don't have kids in that district. Rant over :-)

  5. Excellent review, Rummanah. I want to read this as well. I adored Fangirl and this is in the old TBR. I doubt there is anything in here that is highly offensive, like you say I am sure you can hear worse in a high school on a daily basis. Not to mention, I have read many YA books with sex, drugs and such that are likely to be way more offensive. New Girl is one I can think of right off the top of my head. I am penciling this in for my calendar.

  6. What a great idea Rummanah and such a great review of Eleanor and Park. I haven't read my copy yet. I just haven't gotten to it. I've read so much contemporary lately that I've wanted a little fantasy lately. But the reasons for banning the book, you wonder if the people that request it have ever been sitting next to a group of teens or walked down the halls of a school. My kids knew all the bad words by the end of sixth grade thanks to sharing a bus with older kids. Reality check! And the situation Eleanor is in happens all the time, we hear it on the news, it's on t.v. programs and movies, what's the difference? I just don't understand. Did they read it or just count the offensive words and look for the sex scenes? I haven't read it, but I trust your judgement on this one. Sad, sad, sad.

  7. Great review! I've heard good things about this book and now I think I'm going to have to go find it. I love that last sentence. I don't mind language or sex if they fit the story and in this case it definitely sounds like it does.

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