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Date [ 2014-02-10, 06:06 ]

What happens when a Korean boy falls in love with an American girl?


This teenage story by Rainbow Rowell will take you back to the days when you first fell in love. Most first loves do not graduate beyond the puppy love stage and fade away. This young pair realizes it but is not hesitant to give it a go.

America, as is today, was a melting pot from the days of its founding. So it is not surprising to learn that Park, as the only Korean boy in school, always feels like an outsider. The fact that he has mixed parentage makes it even harder to blend into the school crowd. His Irish father met his Korean mother in Korea and fell in love there. So even though he is half-American, to the other kids in school, he may as well be from another dimension.

But there is someone else in school whom the others think is weird – Eleanor. This is someone who does not seem to brush her flaming red hair. Wears clothes that other men have discarded. Finally she is condemned for that ultimate teenage sin – being overweight!

All in all a geek, a nerd, in today’s terms! So no surprise she is the butt of cruel jokes, name calling and snide remarks. Park realizes, compared to Eleanor, he is not so different from his classmates. He at least could sink into the background without drawing much attention.

Park sees Eleanor for the first time when she gets on to the school bus. It is obvious no one would like Eleanor to sit next to them. All except Park who knows how it is to be pushed away b y others. He makes the grand gesture of letting the girl sit next to him.

It is not long before the boy finds himself warming up to this strange looking girl. Being the gentleman that he is, Park shares his comics with her, have both of them listening to music and other simple things that classmates do.

But the path of true love, though Park had no inkling of it when he first befriends Eleanor, is never smooth. The girl, who has had slings thrown at her most of her life, has built a protective barricade around her. An act of preservation more than anything else. It is when he surmounts these that Park finds himself, uncontrollably falling in love with her.

Eleanor has an unhappy family life. This accounts for her cold and distant exterior. She has a self-centered father for whom Eleanor, her siblings and her mother do not exist. When her mother has a second husband, the children and mother’s lives turn to hell. Eleanor’s stepfather is abusive and her mother does not or cannot stand up to him.

So whenever the violence climbs to a higher scale, it is only Eleanor who is brave enough to bring in the law. This then is an open invitation for the stepfather to vent his rage on the girl. The one small silver lining in her dark cloud is Park. But like most people who suffer abuse, Eleanor does not expect this happiness to last.

Be aware, the life of an abused girl will have vulgarity and coarse words running throughout the book. One has to stomach the bullying and immoral behavior whenever it appears, and so the book carries a dark tone that has to be read through. The only way to understand the life of Eleanor? So you might NOT want to give this book to your young children or very young teenagers too. 

Park’s acceptance of Eleanor becomes lucid when one looks at his family. Though he does not gloat, he is quietly pleased that while ALL his friends’ parents have divorced, his own are still together and still very much in love.

This gives Park a strong, firm base to love Eleanor. It is also what he wants for themselves and the author has the two doing….well, what the two do will grate against Asian norms and culture. Perhaps this is the reality in the Western world, and even some Asians who now live there are going the same way. But that would be another story.

Footnote: The book has won the 2014 Michael L. Printz Honor for excellence in young adult literature.

abc@koreanpress.net


 


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