Thursday, April 17, 2014

Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell


There's something special about a book that a 30-something-year-old out of shape white dude father and his 12-year-old daughter can enjoy (for different reasons, but still) equally.

Before I get to what's so special about this book, let me share the summary from Goodreads, just in case there's still someone out there who hasn't read it:

Two misfits.
One extraordinary love.


Eleanor... Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough...Eleanor.

Park... He knows she'll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punch line. There's a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises...Park.

Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.

(I hate when they use italics in this kind of copy because I like to italicize the whole thing in these un-reviews, but oh well whatever, grumble, grumble)

I was very late to the party reading this book. Like nearly a year late I think, but it doesn't really matter. This is a beautiful, sad, charming, adorable, frustrating, and fascinating book. Rowell gets inside the heart and mind of teenage love like no other.

There are several brilliant things about this book, but the first one I want to focus on is the point of view construct. ELEANOR & PARK is told from an alternating, third-person narrator point of view, focused on one of the two main character's experiences, and then the other. It's not nearly as complicated as I make it sound, but what it is is genius.

This construct has been done before, of course, but in this book it gives the reader a unique insight into the world Eleanor and Park inhabit, and even more so, into the emotions and thoughts and opinions of each other they experience as they fall, surprisingly but unavoidably, in love.

One particular example of how this alternating POV worked so brilliantly that really stuck with me is this: In Eleanor's point-of-view, she often refers to herself (through the narrator) as fat or chubby, or ugly with terrible hair. This is important because I'm sure every teenager feels that way. I certainly did. But what's really beautiful about this book, what really made it shine, to my mind, is that while reading from Park's POV chapters, never once does any of those words describing Eleanor come up. He calls her pretty, beautiful, cute, and even sometimes infuriatingly annoying (but only in an adorable way that still makes her attractive to him).

I think there's a subtle, but very important message here about self image. Rowell handles it with such skill that I wonder if many people even noticed that, but for me it stood out starkly. Both Eleanor and Park actually suffer from it, that lack of self-confidence, that issue with body image and social status, and the never ending teen question of "Do I fit in?" But what they find in each other is someone who sees something more in them. Something beautiful, something that inspires them to love.

Anyway, I don't know. That wasn't the only amazing part about this book, but to me it felt incredibly authentic, and deeply moving that they saw in each other more than they saw in themselves.

Now ... I don't know if I would go so far as to call ELEANOR & PARK historical YA, because I'm not sure it takes place quite long enough ago, but the time period of the setting, which is the 1980s, is so alive and vivid and so exquisitely rendered that I immediately felt taken back to my childhood as if on the wings of a dream.

Not everything about the 80s is Wonder Years type nostalgia, of course, but pretty much all the references in ELEANOR & PARK are fun, genuine, and fill the tale with realism and believability. I was especially struck not only by Park's interesting and unique taste in and love for music, but in his incredibly vast knowledge of both popular and obscure 80s bands. It was clear to me that the author had actually lived in Omaha in the 80s as a teen, and instead of that awareness drawing me out of the story, it only drew me deeper in.

Another thing I love is how much balls this book has. One thing that will always make me give a book a chance is if it's YA, and uses an F-bomb on the first page. I mean, I get it, that's not everyone's thing, but for me, when I was a teenager, I was crass and horny, and angry, and scared, and I want the kids I read about to be just as real, you know? Obviously that kind of thing has to fit the character, and the tone and voice of the novel, but teens who swear always feels more authentic and believable to me than teens who don't.

Man, I could go on, but I think the last two points I'll try to touch on are the romance, and the end. Let's discuss the end first, shall we? We're all misfits here, right? For me, the ending of this book was perfect. I won't give it completely away, because who knows, there may still be some people out there who have not read it, but for me, the sad, ambiguous, frustrating way it ended was just perfect. I get that it might not work for some people (my daughter was certainly disappointed by it) but for me I just think that life is not this neat little perfect thing, and I want the books I read to reflect that, so the fact that SPOILER ALERT it did not all work out in the end END SPOILER just worked very well for me.

Finally, the romance. Let's get one thing straight: I'm a dude. Okay, two things: I'm also pretty jaded. I really don't read romance. And I don't mean like actual romance novels, I mean I honestly don't enjoy reading YA when the main focus of the plot is two people falling in love, or worse, one person deciding which angle of the other two in her triangle she should end up with. Don't get me wrong, I've got nothing against love, but reading about it bores me unless there are a lot of explosions and sword fights to distract my male id. But ... in ELEANOR & PARK, there's something ... it's just ... I can't quite put my finger on it, but there's just something about the way these two kids fall in love that is so moving, and so genuine, and so non-cheesy, that it just never made me uncomfortable or bored me the way reading about teen love normally does.

I don't know. I'm a writer, so I should be able to express that better, but I just can't.

What did you all think? If you've read this wonderful book, please share your thoughts in the comments. Also, did anyone else notice the POV thing about Eleanor calling herself fat and Park completely disagreeing?








NOTE: I'm aware of some of the ... diversity critiques of this novel, and I don't necessarily disagree, but that discussion is not the purpose of this post. If you're curious what I'm talking about, Kelly Jensen covered the topic quite well at BookRiot. Mike Jung also wrote a somewhat more personal post on his Tumblr.

I really like Mike's post, because he points out it's possible to love a work and still be troubled by certain aspects of it.

Anyway, I highly recommend you read this novel if you haven't already. You can find out more about Rainbow Rowell here:

Monday, April 14, 2014

From the Vault :: Rock the Drop

Every Monday we post a reading/writing-related question for our followers, and at the end of the month, one lucky commenter is selected to choose a title from our Vault. Whatever we have available: ARCs, signed books, awesome new releases... OR the monthly winner may select any one book to be ordered for him/her from the Book Depository

(To enter, follow YA Confidential and make sure your email address is linked to your comment in some way. We'll need to get in touch with you if you win.)


Today's Question --> Thursday, April 17th is Support Teen Literature Day! Many YA Confidential Operatives celebrate by participating in Rock the Drop -- a "guerilla-style book distribution scheme in which YA fans secretly leave copies of favorite books in public places for readers to pick up and enjoy." Will you participate in Rock the Drop? If so, what book(s) will you drop, and where?


Tracey - I’ve been meaning to participate in this for years, and again this year I’m going to try. I’ll probably leave behind JELLICOE ROAD because it’s one of my favorite books ever and a YA novel even many YA lovers haven’t read.

Matthew - This scares me a little, but I thinking of giving away some books at work, just to see what happens.

Leigh - I love love love this day!!! YES, I'm participating! Okay, truth: I always say I'm participating, and then I can never part with my favorite books. LOL! This year I will. (I won't.) I will! (I won't.) I WILL!!! (My precioussss...) ;) Seriously, it'll probably be a Sarah Dessen or a Deb Caletti or a Jolene Perry... or one of mine.

Sarah -  What the what??? How have I never heard of this? This is AWESOME! I totally want to participate in this. I'll have to think on this some, but my first thoughts are Anne McCaffrey's DRAGONSINGER, which is the first book in her YA trilogy in the Pern series and Monica Hughes INVITATION TO THE GAME. As to where, maybe the park outside my house? Or the grocery store or community center? I'll have to do some undercover scoping.

Jaime – I heart Rock the Drop so much! I look forward to it all year. My fave drop location so far was the Pediatric ward at our local hospital this past year. A repeat visit might be in order. I’m thinking of going with a theme for what books I plan on dropping this time around. I’ve read some heartfelt posts by YA authors about life on the midlist, so I was thinking I might help give some awesome midlist books some much-deserved exposure. Can’t wait!

Alison - Rock the Drop is over our spring break this year. So, I haven’t made specific plans, but I do hope to “drop” something. I will say that I’ve made it a habit over the past few years to donate books I’ve purchased and read to the English teachers at the local high schools for their classroom libraries. Hopefully those books are getting creased and dog-eared and read many times over. :-)

Katy – I’m definitely going to participate! Last year I distributed first books in dystopian trilogies with the hope that whoever snagged the books would continue on with the series. This year, I’m going to set out a few of my favorite contemps: JELLICOE ROAD, IF I STAY, and THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE. 

Your turn... Will you Rock the Drop? 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

March Comment of the Month Winner!

So many great answers again this month to our From the Vault questions. Thank you to everyone who participated in March! Now for our favorite comment...

We asked you:
We're already 1/4 through 2014! 
What's the best book you've read so far this year?

And SUZANNE_WRITER said:

"It's an absolute tie for me between The Gospel of Winter and Charm & Strange. Both books are contemporary, which is far away from my fantasy and sci-fi comfort zone, but they resonated with me on a profound level.
Both books deal with similar themes of sexual abuse in very different ways in very different contexts. The Gospel of Winter left me with a severe book hangover while Charm & Strange left me feeling shattered for days after completion. I'm still thinking about these stories, still reeling from what the main characters went through even though I read them in January.
I loved the beautiful writing in these books and the sensitive yet honest way in which the authors dealt with the disturbing and controversial subject matter. These are important books, especially for teenage boys."

Congrats, Suzanne! Just send us a quick email at yaconfidential [at] gmail [dot] com with your book choice from The Book Depository and your mailing info, and we'll get it sent off to you ASAP. Thanks again for taking part in our From the Vault Mondays!



Monday, April 7, 2014

From the Vault

Every Monday we post a reading/writing-related question for our followers, and at the end of the month, one lucky commenter is selected to choose a title from our Vault. Whatever we have available: ARCs, signed books, awesome new releases... OR the monthly winner may select any one book to be ordered for him/her from the Book Depository

(To enter, follow YA Confidential and make sure your email address is linked to your comment in some way. We'll need to get in touch with you if you win.)

Today's Question :: What are your must-haves for a productive writing session? Cozy chair? The perfect tunes? Freshly brewed coffee? A new notebook? Tell us!



Tracey - All I really need are my laptop and a glass of water. But what really makes a writing session productive for me is knowing ahead of time what I plan to write. I’m not talking about a hard outline, but an idea of a scene. I let it play out in my mind like a movie before I start writing, and it helps me avoid staring at a blank page.

Matthew - I can write just about anywhere, but only because I have to. No other choice these days!

Leigh - A solid scene idea. Usually I'll brainstorm a while (while I'm driving children, doing laundry, jogging, pretending to sleep) until I have all the details worked out. Then once it's "brewed," I sit down and Bam!  And a comfy chair helps.

Sarah - I'm pretty easy going. I need to have a computer of some kind, because I don't like to handwrite (outside of notes and outlines and that junk) and that's pretty much it. I prefer to write on my desktop, but I can sit on the couch and write in front of the TV if needed. Water is nice to have on hand, though, because I get thirsty.

Jaime - I need a clear idea of what I hope to accomplish during that session. Whether it’s revising a particularly obnoxious chapter or writing X amount of words, I need some kind of game plan or I just flounder. And by ‘flounder’ I mean do the social media circuit over and over and over again. Oh, and I need an uncluttered work environment, otherwise I’m too distracted. [see: flounder] A cup of tea and a good WiP playlist certainly help too!

Alison - Coffee. Lots of it. Also, I usually start my morning with a to-do list of small goals and then tackle them. I enjoy checking things off!

Katy – I need a clear picture of where I’m going with whatever scene/chapter I’m working on. If I’m home, I need my comfy recliner and Crystal Light, and if I’m at Starbucks, I need music to drown out the world’s loudest baristas and a skinny caramel latte. Very specific.

Your turn! What are your must-haves for a productive writing session?

Friday, April 4, 2014

Want Your First Page Critiqued by Teens?

Okay, so who doesn't want their target audience's feedback on their book? Here at YA Confidential, we offer that chance!

Send the first page of your YA novel to yaconfidential@gmail.com and one submitter will be randomly chosen to have their page critiqued on the blog by our teen spies! They'll reveal what they liked, what they didn't, and whether or not they'd keep reading! 

Deadline for page submission: April 11!

If you've submitted in previous months, but haven't been selected, feel free to submit again!

Monday, March 31, 2014

From the Vault

Every Monday we post a reading/writing-related question for our followers, and at the end of the month, one lucky commenter is selected to choose a title from our Vault. Whatever we have available: ARCs, signed books, awesome new releases... OR the monthly winner may select any one book to be ordered for him/her from the Book Depository

(To enter, follow YA Confidential and make sure your email address is linked to your comment in some way. We'll need to get in touch with you if you win.)

Today's Question --> We’re already ¼ through 2014! What’s the best book you’ve read so far this year?

Tracey - THESE BROKEN STARS by Meagan Spooner and Amie Kaufman is one of the first books I read in 2014 and so far it’s still my favorite. I can imagine it’ll still be in the top five at the end of the year, too. 

Matthew - I would say GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE, but I technically read that for the fist time a few years ago, so I'll say ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell.

Leigh - MINE! Hahahaha -- kidding. I need a good book rec -- comments section is fine! I've read several books this year, but they've all just swam by in my head and nothing's really stood out. Halp! 

Sarah - Man, I've read a lot of great books so far this year. But I will have to say that Anne Ursu's THE REAL BOY is topping my list. Yes it's MG, but man, if I ever write a MG fantasy, I want it to be like that. But for YA, I think so far it's a tie between Andrew Smith's GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE and A.S. King's REALITY BOY.

Jaime - So tough! I’ve read some pretty fantastic books so far this year. It’s going to have to be a four-way tie between INTO THE STILL BLUE by Veronica Rossi , CROWN OF EMBERS + THE BITTER KINGDOM by Rae Carson , and CRESS by Marissa Meyer)

Alison - WINGER by Andrew Smith. I’m always down for an awesome boy book and this one was AMAZING.

Katy – I’m with Trace – THESE BROKEN STARS totally blew my mind. Also, I just finished Morgan Matson’s AMY & ROGER’S EPIC DETOUR and absolutely loved it. Can’t believe it took me so long to pick up. Total Katy Book. :-) 

Your turn! What’s the best book you’ve read so far this year?

Friday, March 28, 2014

Ask-A-Dude!


Hello, everyone! Welcome back to another edition of Ask-a-Dude!

Remember, you can ask your own questions using the submission form on the right!


Today's question is:

  
Q: Guys. Explain.

A: Outstanding question.

Guys think they're simple creatures, and would have you believe they have the same needs as adults that they did as babies (boobs and a clean diaper). It's a fallacy, of course, guys are faaaar more complicated than they pretend to be. 

(I should clarify I'm mostly talking about heterosexual males. Simple Male Syndrome does not appear to be a delusion shared by gay men. None of my gay friends pretend to be anything other than the fabulously complicated creatures they were born as.)

It takes a lot of energy to keep up this fa├žade of simplicity. Most guys manage it okay, but there is a penalty. It's like those Klingon warbirds with the nifty cloak that you have to disengage if you want to fire weapons. You can't run two competing systems simultaneously. That's why, when some dude is pretending to be all chill while talking out his ass on a topic YOU know he's clueless about, and you call him on it, you can cause a system overload. Men, just like Klingon ships, cannot fight and hide at the same time.

The result is a break with reality, a glitch in the matrix that appears suddenly with no explanation, and if you ask for one, guys will pretend whatever just happened was what they intended all along. The simplest example is the "trip run." That's where a guy will be walking down the street, trip on his own shoelaces, and then break into a jog, like he suddenly checked his pedometer and needed to burn a few extra calories.

At the other extreme is war. Someone will be all, there are no weapons of mass destruction there, and guys will be all, yeah there are, and you'll be like, nuh-uh, and then suddenly guys are all, booyah, I just broke your country.

Never underestimate the destructive power of a male who's been challenged to account for himself. 

Here's a more recent example.


Yes, this is a real game. No, it makes no sense. Yes, there are guys lined up to buy it. Why does it exist? Because someone caused cognitive dissonance in a male game developer somewhere.

I imagine it went down like this: the creator of this game was relaxing at home when his girlfriend innocently asked if he wouldn't mind refilling the ice cube tray after using it.

"What did you just say to me?!"

Boom. Goat Simulator.

See, asking guys to be responsible is like squeezing a balloon. No matter how gently you squeeze, the balloon is going to bubble up somewhere else. Goat Simulator is that bubble. Also, masking-tape faces.



Sticky tape selfies, Goat Simulator, fantasy football, they're all examples of a break in the male psyche brought on by a challenge to the meh-gendered, guys who pretend they can take on the world with a shrug and a beer. 

The truth is, roiling within the skull of every man, is a morass of emotional turmoil that threatens to inflict on the world Even-Toed Ungulate Expansion Packs for Goat Simulator, all because someone mentioned that, perhaps, just maybe, it was sorta, kinda, douchey to take his shoes off and clean between his toes. At the dinner table. In a fancy restaurant. With your parents.

Why do men unravel so easily?

In a word: insecurity.

No matter how put together the guy seems, trust me when I tell you there are insecurities lurking beneath the surface you cannot possibly begin to understand.

No, seriously, give me a random topic. A person, place, or thing, just shout it out.

Sports.

Too easy. Every guy thinks he knows more about the game than the average player. He also thinks he could make the team if he'd just do a few extra crunches in the morning, but then he'd be all sweaty, and he just showered for school, plus, he doesn't have to PROVE ANYTHING TO ANYONE! Sports offer so many structural failure points for a guy, it's like building a bridge out of Swiss cheese. The slightest challenge to his surety that no one knows or could play the game better, and suddenly you're walking home alone and not entirely sure why.

Gimme another one. Make it obscure.

Nail files.

Fine. Every guy pretends not to care about his look, but they all do. Most guys just clip their fingernails once they're long enough to simply snick off the black end with all the crud under it. Insta-clean nails, and no need for all that time-consuming grooming. But from time to time, he'll get a torn bit that could really do with a nail file. Problem is, the only one he has is the tiny one that came attached to the clippers, and that one's been rusted shut for years. His girlfriend has one, but how to get it without asking? If he goes into her purse gem thief-style, he might be seen, and mocked mercilessly until the end of time. If he asks for one, he will be mocked mercilessly until the end of time. If he doesn't ask, he'll snag his nail on something, yelp in excruciating pain, and will be mocked mercilessly until the end of time.

This calculus rises in an instant. With no clear way to retain his self-esteem, the insecure male's brain will explode, showering the surrounding area with gray matter, and leaving some nonsensical new product in its wake. Like toilet paper holders that don't require you to remove the impossibly complicated spring-loaded tube.

This toilet paper holder:

Let's see, sports, nail files. . .Crimea?

"What if I'm not as manly as Vladimir Putin?"

You can use this knowledge to your advantage, of course. It comes in particularly handy in dating scenarios. You have a huge crush on the hottest guy in class, but you're too scared to ask him out? Don't look at him, look past him, to all the conflicting insecurities threatening to turn him into a blubbering mass of ugly-cry tears, all because you pointed out that he doesn't look like the American Apparel model in his pea coat, he looks like the "before" picture in a police training manual about park flashers. You may not see his insecurities, but they're there, and, likely, others have seen them rear their ugly, Medusa-like heads. Just remember, no matter how good-looking he is, someone, somewhere is tired of his sh!t! If you can roll with all that, then go get some.

The other place this knowledge can be useful is if you're trying to understand your male character. You want him to act as irrationally and batshit crazy as every guy you've ever met. But you also want him to be real, not some cardboard cutout of an alpha-male stereotype.

Simple. Give him something to care about.

It can be his looks, his girlfriend, his car, his lack of car, his grades, his future, his past, or his present. Whatever it is, now realize that his one function in life, the only calling card he needs to get into the men's VIP bathroom, is giving the appearance that the thing that matters to him most, doesn't matter at all.

Now put him in a room with someone who knows the truth.

Insecurity. It's what's for breakfast.




Copil has stopped going to public urinals. Discover his many and varied insecurities on Twitter (@Copil).


 
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