Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell 2014 Tournament of Books Watch

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The 2014 Tournament of Books is here, and The Voyage Out will be spending a lot of time over the next month or so talking about this wonderfully book nerdy thing. I hope you enjoy our coverage.

I’ll add my name to the list of people who will say the following, inane line: I don’t usually read this type of thing… but… Well maybe I should read this type of thing. Maybe I should get over my silly book snobbery and get onto reading things that are perfectly built for their audience. Questlove did an interview for the Believer a long while back, and he said something that has stuck with me, and I’ll paraphrase:

Judge a work not on some sort of inherent goodness, but on it’s effectiveness to accomplish the thing it sets out to do.

In other words, Eleanor & Park will not be the “best” book on this year’s list, but it may be the most effective. It’s a story of young love and family. The tale has been done again and again, but Rainbow Rowell somehow makes this seem fresh.

Eleanor is poor and doesn’t have society’s ‘ideal body’. Park is a nerd, slightly effeminate (at least in comparison to his little brother and his father’s hopes), and has built a safe space for himself just outside the ‘haves’, but not quite a ‘have not’. Through one simple gesture of kindness, Park is able to make Eleanor’s day a little better, and that is the beginning of feelings upon feelings upon feelings. Throw in some violence, some humor, some drama, and some pettiness, and you’ve got yourself a heck of a story.

What I really liked about Eleanor & Park, though, was their slight movements away from sentimentality. The story is necessarily sappy, but just a few slight acknowledgements by the main characters of their own silliness adds weight to the novel, and makes me like these two even more. You get the feeling that these two know that they are hyperbolic in their affections, but that they somehow don’t care. That they will be hyperbolic now, realistic later. Maybe it has something to do with the type of neurons that fire in teenage brains, but the ability to immerse yourself in another person is not something to be looked down upon, but something to be celebrated. And Eleanor & Park, although sad and tragic at times, is a celebration.

As far as how it will do in the tournament? I predict big things. I think it will be matched up against one of these literary giants, and I predict an early upset by the little teen novel that could (they will not pair it with judge John Green, so it will be considered an upset). The book will get through the first round, then maybe the second. I think it will do well enough to continue a conversation about great Teen Lit, and it will stop idiots like me from feeling the need to parse our excitement for a book by saying, “I don’t usually read this type of thing…but…” How childish is that statement?

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