Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

EleanorPark_cover2-300x450Why I read it:  I received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley.

What it’s about: (from author’s website)  “Bono met his wife in high school,” Park says.

“So did Jerry Lee Lewis,” Eleanor answers.

“I’m not kidding,” he says.

“You should be,” she says, “we’re 16.”

“What about Romeo and Juliet?”

“Shallow, confused, then dead.”

“I love you,” Park says.

“Wherefore art thou,” Eleanor answers.

“I’m not kidding,” he says.

“You should be.”

Set over the course of one school year in 1986, Eleanor & 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.

What worked for me (and what didn’t): I didn’t know a lot about this book going in.  I knew it was YA, I wasn’t entirely sure how much romance would be there and whether it would have a traditional HEA (it did not, but romance readers, don’t be scared – it doesn’t end badly and Eleanor and Park are only 16/17 in the story).  When I started reading, as much as I was engaged when I was reading, I found myself sometimes reluctant to pick it up again.  Not because it wasn’t good.  That’s not the case at all.  The writing is lovely and the characters are drawn so well.  No, it was because there was an aspect to this book which was painful to read.  Eleanor’s story in particular is sad.  I was worried for a lot of the book that things would not end well for her.  I had a deep sense of foreboding throughout the story which made me increasingly reluctant to keep going.  Perversely, the further I got into the story, the faster I read and the last third of the book took one day whereas the first two thirds took a week.

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

Why I read it:  My book twin Brie told me it was one of her favourite books from 2011 so I had to read it.
What it’s about:  (from Goodreads)  Beth and Jennifer know their company monitors their office e-mail. But the women still spend all day sending each other messages, gossiping about their coworkers at the newspaper and baring their personal lives like an open book. Jennifer tells Beth everything she can’t seem to tell her husband about her anxieties over starting a family. And Beth tells Jennifer everything, period.

When Lincoln applied to be an Internet security officer, he hardly imagined he’d be sifting through other people’s inboxes like some sort of electronic Peeping Tom. Lincoln is supposed to turn people in for misusing company e-mail, but he can’t quite bring himself to crack down on Beth and Jennifer. He can’t help but be entertained-and captivated- by their stories.

But by the time Lincoln realizes he’s falling for Beth, it’s way too late for him to ever introduce himself. What would he say to her? “Hi, I’m the guy who reads your e-mail, and also, I love you.” After a series of close encounters and missed connections, Lincoln decides it’s time to muster the courage to follow his heart . . . even if he can’t see exactly where it’s leading him.

Written with whip-smart precision and charm, Attachments is a strikingly clever and deeply romantic debut about falling in love with the person who makes you feel like the best version of yourself. Even if it’s someone you’ve never met.

What worked for me (and what didn’t): This is an unusual book. Lincoln and Beth don’t actually (knowingly) speak or engage with each other until very near the end of the book.  Usually, I’d hate that kind of story.  I hated Sleepless in Seattle with a passion – Tom and Meg had like ONE SCENE together!!  (Ditto with Serendipity).  But, for the most part, it worked for me here.  I think, that is mostly because the book is told from Lincoln’s POV.  When I’m reading Beth and Jennifer’s emails, he is reading Beth and Jennifer’s emails.  Lincoln is very present in the story – in the chapters comprised of emails, the reader IS Lincoln.  In the other chapters, we are in Lincoln’s head.

The story is set in 1999/2000 and recalls the furore of the Y2K bug (which turned out to be nothing) – a time when not everyone had a mobile (cell) phone and social media was fairly new.  It seems like such a long time ago now!  When Lincoln first starts reading Beth’s emails, she is in a long term relationship and it does seem hard to imagine that there is a HEA at the end.  But, hang in there, there really is.
It took me a little while to get a handle on Lincoln because he came across to me at first as being this uber geek with a monobrow and no personal hygiene.  But, it turns out he‘s a handsome but very shy and sensitive nerd.  He’s smart and funny but he lacks confidence to the degree that he finds it very difficult to socialise and setbacks have a greater impact on him than they would perhaps on others.
I liked Lincoln.  He was uncomfortable with the voyeurism attached to reading Beth and Jennifer’s emails, even if at least part of it was his actual job.  But he was also understandable.  He was lonely and longed for connection and witnessing Beth and Jennifer’s friendship gave him some by proxy.  Also, once he worked out that Beth called him “My Cute Guy” – well seriously, who wouldn’t look then?
The story didn’t wash that all away in a tide of Tru-Luurve (TM) which I was glad about – over the course of the book, Lincoln made quite a few changes in his life, culminating in steps which meant he was separated from Beth for a whileWhen they did get together, it was a healthier scenario than if they had hooked up immediately after he was reading her email.
I also liked Beth and Jennifer and some of their emails were hilarious. 
 <<Jennifer to Beth>> Now that I think about it, we’ve known each other six years, and I’ve never seen you in a bathing suit. Or a tank top. 
<<Beth to Jennifer>> Not a coincidence, my friend. I’ve got the arms of a Sicilian grandmother. Arms for picking olives and stirring hearty tomato sauces. Shoulders for carrying buckets of water from the stream to the farmhouse. 
<<Jennifer to Beth>> Has Chris seen your shoulders? 
<<Beth to Jennifer>> He’s seen them. But he hasn’t seen them. 
<<Jennifer to Beth>> I get it, but I don’t get it. 
<<Beth to Jennifer>> No sleeveless negligees. No direct sunlight. Sometimes when I’m getting out of the shower, I shout, “Hey, look, a bobcat!” 
<<Jennifer to Beth>> I’ll bet he falls for that every time. 

There was a subplot involving Jennifer which was kind of hard for me to read because it is one of my personal hot buttons.
The idea of a man falling in love with you because of who you are, without even knowing what you look like, what your voice sounds like, how tall you are, what you smell like – that’s pretty attractive I think and when Lincoln does see Beth, he likes (loves) what he sees, so his devotion to her is rooted in all the best things.  And, given her relationship history, someone who will love her this way is just what she needs and I don’t believe she will ever take it for granted.  Their relationship is not one of gratitude though – there is genuine liking, attraction and sympatico between the two. 


What else?  I enjoyed the secondary characters – Doris the lady who refills the vending machines, Lincoln’s Dungeons and Dragons friends and Justin (his clubbing buddy) and I enjoyed watching the changes Lincoln made in his life. 
But even though this book worked for me, I would have liked more of Lincoln and Beth together, so I’m going with a B for the grade.

Grade:  B  

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