06. November 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Courtney, Fiction, Romance, Teen Books · Tags: ,

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell , 328 pages, read by Courtney, on 10/24/2013

I have so much love for this book, I’m not even sure where to start.
Omaha, NE 1986:
Park is something of a misfit. He’s half-Korean, loves underground music and is a comics aficionado. He tries hard to tune out the idiots so he can get through high school unscathed.
Eleanor has just moved back in with her mother. Which means she is also living with 4 younger siblings and an emotionally abusive stepfather in a one bedroom house. She is also a misfit. She’s got bright red, curly hair and is a bit larger than a lot of the girls she sees. She’s just trying not to get kicked out of her house again.
When Park sees Eleanor the first time, his heart goes out to her. He knows she’ll never fit in at North High School. When she sits next to him on the bus, he only hopes that she doesn’t draw attention to him. Eleanor doesn’t want attention any more than Park does, but her appearance makes her an easy target. She continues to sit by him on the bus every day, even though they rarely exchange a word. Gradually, something gives and they begin to talk. Once they start to know each other, it’s game over. They’re head over heels; they drive each other to madness; they understand the power of love for another person. It’s unlike anything either of them have ever experienced. It provides a shield against all the pettiness of high school melodrama and allows these two to be unafraid of who they are.
It’s a beautiful book, as gut-wrenching as it is at times. Rowell had created two characters for the ages. Readers will fly through the pages of this book with baited breath, desperate to know whether these two will be OK in the end. Moments of tragedy are buffeted by humor and tenderness. The mid-’80’s setting is perfect for this story as the two bond over punk and new wave music; as they read each new installment of Alan Moore’s Watchmen together. I’m pleased to report as an Omaha native that the details of the city are spot-on and gave me a massive dose of nostalgia for my hometown. A lovely read, through and through.

08. October 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Courtney, Fiction, Teen Books · Tags: , ,

Reality Boy by A.S. King, 368 pages, read by Courtney, on 08/09/2013

Gerald Faust hates his life. But, really, when it comes right down to it, he was never given much of a chance. When he was 5, his mother enlisted the aid of a TV show that brings an appropriately-British nanny into a house to address the behavioral issues of the children living there. The producers and cameras move in soon after. Audiences love the show; the Faust family is decided messed up. But the cameras only show one side of the story. The side of the story that ends with Gerald becoming known as “the Crapper”, which winds up being Gerald’s identity throughout the rest of his childhood and adolescence. If things had been edited differently; if Gerald’s parents (particularly his mother) had acted differently; if the nanny had been an *actual* nanny and not just an actress playing a nanny; audiences would have seen the circumstances that led to Gerald’s infamous habit of defecating on various household surfaces. The audiences might have seen his eldest sister threatening to kill Gerald and his other sister. Audiences might have seen his mother constantly siding with his psychopath of an older sister. In case the point needs to be made clear: the behavior problems were never Gerald’s, but they made for better TV.
We’ve all seen these shows, right? Well, what happens when the subject of one of these shows grows up? What kind of life do they lead when every single person in their hometown associates these kids with the nightmares they were portrayed as on TV? In Gerald’s case, it causes him to have extreme anger and anxiety issues. It’s also landed him in the special education program at school. It’s caused him to be a loner, because no one wants to be friends with “the Crapper”. It’s caused Gerald to create an Disney-like imaginary world called “Gersday” to escape to. In other words, life has not been easy. When Gerald is finally forced to talk to his co-worker crush, he’s forced to find a way to relate to the outside world and comes to some staggering conclusions along the way.
I love A.S. King’s work and this one is no exception. It’s a concept that I’ve never come across before and it’s a story told with impeccable pacing and loads of compassion. King writes the sort of books that wind up surprising you no matter how much you think you know what’s going to happen next. This is part coming-of-age, part love story and part family drama. It’s told in chapters that alternate between Gerald’s present and various “takes” from scenes in the reality show that Gerald had no choice but participate in. Bit by bit, they tell a heartbreaking and darkly humorous story that feels as unique is it does familiar. Highly recommended.

I received this book after stalking the publisher at the ALA Annual Conference and am not compensated in any way for my review (other than the sheer joy of reading). This book comes out in September 2013.