I’m sure that Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary and S.E. Hinton were initially responsible for my love of books in general. But Suzanne Collins, John Green and now Rainbow Rowell have contributed to my enduring love for Young Adult fiction specifically.

Or maybe I’m just immature.

Whatever the reason, I’m a huge fan of the YA genre and rarely disappointed by a book I’ve discovered in the YA section.

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Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell was no exception. Like John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, I found the dialogue between the two main characters to be so authentic and smart. (Warning: there IS quite a bit of crude language – the type you overhear in any public high school.) I was completely mesmerized by the story of these two self-identified “misfits” and their experience of first love.

Eleanor’s home life totally sucks and is made even more complicated by issues of poverty and domestic violence. Park has two loving parents, a room of his own, and all the “extras” that typical American kids in suburbia have. But he is bi-racial (Korean/Caucasian) and he doesn’t feel like his dad truly accepts him for who he is.

Eleanor and Park bond over comic books and mix-tapes and their shared experience of feeling different.

Reading this book brought back memories of some of those awkward teenaged years. But I also identified with and found myself cheering for Park’s mom and dad who, despite being imperfect parents, were doing their very best to do be “a village.” Though not immediate, Park’s parents felt a responsibility to provide a safe and loving place for Eleanor to hang out, as well as an opportunity to experience healthy family dynamics. We’ve felt that same sense of responsibility with some of our own kids’ friends.

Sometimes, even when I love a book, I am disappointed by the ending. With only one or two pages left I was afraid this was going to be the case with Eleanor and Park. But thankfully that was not the case. The very last sentence of the book was open-ended, profoundly hopeful and utterly lovely. May all first loves be the same.

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