Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & ParkI was told by an annoying person to read Eleanor & Park a few months back. This was way way back in the summer when I had just signed up for my Young Adult Literature class. I was dreading it (and reading YA Lit) because I knew the average near the end of the semester (where we are right now) was about six books a week. So as you do with annoying people, you ignore the advice. What a mistake. I read the book about two months ago now and since then I’ve also read FangirlRainbow Rowell‘s other book, and I’ve fallen in love.

There are those that attempt to write realistic teen romance. And then there is Rainbow Rowell (the link above is to her beautiful blog which is updated on the reg) who simply makes everyone else’s attempts look like fingerprinting next to the Sistine Chapel.

Plot

Eleanor is not your typical manic pixie girl heroine. In fact, she doesn’t fancy herself a hero at all. Her mother and abusive stepdad are finally letting her move back in with them after they kicked her out. So all Eleanor wants to do is blend in. She wants to disappear. She gets on the bus and sits next to a skinny Asian boy.

Park sees Eleanor get on the bus. She’s dressed like a crazy person–her bright red, curly hair is accentuated by her bigger-than-average size, bright clothing, copious accessories and “don’t fuck with me” attitude. Nobody wants her to sit next to them. It’s half-way through the semester and everyone has already claimed their regular seat. But when people start to laugh, park moves his backpack–the universal non-verbal signal for “if you must.”

Fast forward to a few weeks later. Park reads his comics on the bus every day and has started to notice that Eleanor reads over his shoulder. He starts to bring the early Watchmen comics for her to read on her own. How can he know that this is the only kindness she’s been shown in weeks?

This book is pretty heavy, guys. When I say her stepfather is abusive, what I mean to say is that Eleanor is afraid to shower when he’s around because she’s worried he’ll harass her for her size–or worse–try to touch her. She sometimes doesn’t have the means to wash her clothes. And when she finally does see her biological father (yes, that’s right, he’s not dead), she ends up stealing a toothbrush from his house because she can’t afford one.

This was one of those books where 23-year-old Margaux is saying “WHERE THE HELL ARE THE RESPONSIBLE ADULTS?! THE PARENTS?!” I just want to give Eleanor a hug. I also want to give park a fist-bump because he basically found his soul-mate at 16. And I’m not ruining anything when I say that, don’t worry.

Subject Headings

Throwback, teen romance, family issues, bullying

Appeal

Compelling, densely written, relentless, bittersweet, bleak, poignant, moving, sympathetic protagonists, dramatic characters, multiple points of view, authentic, character-centered, accurate, detailed setting, candid.

Favorite Quotes

“You can be Han Solo,” he said, kissing her throat. “And I’ll be Boba Fett. I’ll cross the sky for you.”

“Eleanor was right. She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.”

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The Coldest Girl in Cold Town

Coldest Girl in Cold TownI realize I won the geographical the jackpot, growing up in the Chicago suburbs, living in a village just outside of the city. I have access to Chicago’s finest and I (generally) don’t have to deal with terrible, awful traffic. One of the other plusses: I have access to great, beautiful, awesome bookstores. It’s like Candy Land–and not the Django kind. There’s libraries where I vet my books (and let’s face it, serve the more wealthy of Chicago’s suburbanites) and then there’s bookstores where I buy my stash. I’m a book junkie. I have too many books. I can’t part with them. Someday, I’ll have piles and piles of books all over my house and Hoarderswill have to come and dig out my cat from under a pile of Penguin Classics.

Now back to this book. I went to Anderson’s Bookshop to pick up my new copy. Now, don’t be jealous, but it’s totally autographed. I’m such a fangirl. I was just telling a friend about it tonight and literally started squealing like a teenager. I ended up finishing The Coldest Girl in Coldtown in about a day and a half, & reading it just made me want to re-read everything else of Holly Black‘s because she’s just so dark and romantic. She has this way of throwing fairytale creatures (fairies, changelings, demons, vampires) into the modern world. I think reading Tithe, Valiant and Ironside as a teenager is what gave me my dark, morbid, and at times very charming sense of humor.

Plot

17-year-old Tana wakes up in a bathtub. No joke. She was at a party the night before, she remembers going to the bathroom, but she doesn’t remember laying down in the tub and she sure as hell has no idea how her dress got all messed up. She walks around the house and starts seeing bodies. Where is her ex, Aiden? Wasn’t he there at the party? She realizes quickly that what she’s seeing is the aftermath of a vampire attack (they probably escaped the ghettos scattered throughout the country called “Coldtowns”). As quietly as possible, Tana makes her way to the bedroom where she left her purse the night before and sees Aiden tied to the bed… Alive. 

That’s also the first time she sees him. Gavriel. He’s as handsome as he is truly terrifying.

After throwing together a shoddy rescue, the trio make their way to the nearest Coldtown because Aiden is infected and Gavriel is… well… a vampire. Little does Tana know that Gavriel has revenge on his mind and only the death of his enemy will slake his bloodlust (although he does try draining every human Tana will let him near). He’s killed several people along the way and it terrifies her (which is a nice change, don’t you think, from the star-crossed lovers you’re always reading in YA novels) while at the same time mesmerizes her.

Per usual, Black does a beautiful job melding the modern world with the classic dark vampire motif that’s all over YA lit today. There is real violence in several passages (and I say this having read all of Anne Rice‘s works) and definite sexual tension that only YA novels can create. It’s a totally new universe where reality TV is usually streaming directly from one of the U.S.’s coldtowns. Will Tanna become a vampire? Will her family ever be whole again? Will Gavriel exact his revenge? Read Black’s The Coldest Girl in Coldtown to find out.

Subject Headings

Paranormal Romance, Vampires, Fantasy, Young Adult, Modern

Appeal

Compelling, haunting, foreboding, gritty, hard-edged, sarcastic, romantic, provocative, vivid characters, flawed characters, episodic, open-ended, graphic violence, urban, contemporary, polished, lyrical.

Favorite Quotes

“If the enemy of my enemy is my friend, then surely you should be friend to my friend.” (Gavriel page 316).

“You are more dangerous than daybreak” (Gavriel page 160).

Winger

Winger: Andrew SmithFor my Young Adult Literature class, we’re doing “Sex, Drugs & Rock & Roll” as our topic this week. I picked Winger up from the library I work at about a week and a half ago and decided this would be the first book I read for this week’s class because of the cover alone. Look at it: It’s so stark and somehow reminds me of an Instagram shot this kid would have taken for his friends. The whole book jacket is amazing; the back is a sketch (presumably done by Ryan Dean–similar to the style of the ones throughout the entire novel–of the front cover image. It’s a mirror image cartoon. Bloody brilliant. I love the advertising and planning that had to have gone into making the cover for Winger.

Plot

Ryan Dean West is a 14-year-old Junior at Pine Mountain boarding school (it’s got boys and girls in it). He’s been placed in “Opportunity Hall” or “O-Hall” for bad behavior, meaning his friends aren’t going to be in his dorm. He struggles with bullying, and being seen as a child. He’s a 14-year-old boy. So (obviously) there’s this girl… Annie. A brilliant character to play opposite Ryan Dean. His nickname is “Winger” because that’s the position he plays on the rugby team. The team captain is Joey (he has no nickname because Joey is already short enough) who is the only openly gay student at PM.

Enter the Halloween Dance–that pivotal night. JP, Winger’s best friend prior to Junior year, asks Annie to the dance. What a traitor. Seanie, JP’s roommate, thinks Winger is overreacting. Joey, Winger’s new best friend thinks Winger should have grown a pair and asked Annie before anyone else could have. Winger thinks JP deserves a punch in the face.

This book reads like the tried and true thoughts of an adolescent boy–lots of sarcasm, attitude, humor, & regret. However, the ending has a tragic twist. Will Annie ever see Winger as anyone but her “adorable” best friend? Will JP and Winger reconcile? WHAT HAPPENS AT THE END? Read and find out, buddies.

Subject Headings

Young Adult, Coming of Age, Contemporary, Humor, Tragedy, Young Love, Boarding School

Appeal

compelling, steady, easy, candid, darker, hopeful, gritty, foreboding, introspective, moving, playful, poignant, stark, unpretentious, detailed characters, eccentric, sympathetic characters, strong secondary characters, authentic, character-centered, issue-oriented, twists, strong language, rural, small-town, stark, contemporary, unembellished, vivid, witty.

Navigating Early

Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool was my first Audiobook. Now let me give you some background on why I’ve never done one before. I like to skip. Not like broken record, every-other-page-skipping, but if there’s a part where the protagonist is describing her dream from the night before and it doesn’t pertain to plot, I skip it. [Aside: dreams are totally useless to conversation as well, so I just avoid them. But if you’d like to hear about the time that I dreamt there was a secret ice skating rink under my kitchen sink, I’d be happy to oblige.] This semester, however, I’m taking three classes (for my particular graduate school, this is a full course load) and working 18 hours a week at a library about thirty minutes away from my apartment. So the Audiobook thing? It was totally on my radar. I started it and the narrator’s voice reminded me of my RCIA teacher, so it was kind of soothing.

Plot

Jack lives in post-WWII Kansas and his father is in the Navy. When his mother dies, his father moves Jack to an all-boys boarding school in Maine where he tries to find his sea legs (literally and figuratively) amongst a crowd that has grown up around boating and intensive schooling. Jack begins to idolize a boy named Fisher, a recent graduate of Morton Hill Academy. That’s when Jack becomes friends with August (although he is slow to admit to any form of friendship). August has a fascination with numbers, particularly Pi, who he imagines is a boy trying to find his way in the world and reconcile the death of his village. This book has a kind of metastory every few chapters or so, where August tells the story of Pi to Jack & that theme carries on throughout the entire novel. On their quest to find Pi and the Great Bear, both characters in August’s Pi story, August and Jack encounter pirates, lumberjacks, dangerous wildlife and a witchy 60-year-old mystery in the woods. Will Pi ever find his place? Will August ever recover from the fate of Fisher? Will Jack ever accept his father and mother? Will they survive their quest? Read Navigating Early to find out.

Subject Headings

Middle Grade, Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Quest

Appeal

measured, relaxed, gentle, mystical, suspenseful, eccentric characters, sympathetic characters, flawed characters, dramatic, engaging, episodic, mythic, multiple plot lines, details of WWII, natural.

My favorite quote

“You might consider taking a more active role in your pursuits” –Gunner