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Monday, November 30, 2015

Book Review: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

If you liked John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, then you’ll like this Romeo and Juliet story of two star-crossed lovers in Omaha, Nebraska. It’s 1986 and Eleanor and Park go to the same high school. Eleanor is joining mid term and her first day on the bus establishes the dynamics between all the characters. Tina and Steve sit at the back. Tina is the popular girl. Steve is the loud mouth. Park is half Korean, but nobody in Omaha really gets that. His mother Min Dae (Mindy) married his father when he served in Korea. Park is the skinny Asian kid, but is relatively free of the bullying that the kids save for Eleanor. All the high school antics are detailed in this novel, including the hiding of someone’s clothes during gym class.

When Eleanor gets on the bus on her first day, she is an immediate draw for the bullies, especially Tina. Her clothes are patchworked and from the charity store. She has big bushy red hair and is defiant. Nobody will let her sit with them. Finally, Park, embarrassed for her, demands that she sit. He moves over for her.

What follows are dual narratives by Eleanor and Park and their differing perspectives on the intersecting aspects of their high school days. It’s a cute, he said/she said, look at typical teenager inner thoughts. The insights into Eleanor’s situation depict a troubled home life, poverty and life with an abusive parent, in this case a short-tempered stepfather who is an alcoholic, drug user.

Eleanor and Park fall for each other over Watchmen comics and mixed tapes traded in secret on the bus. What starts as a simple gesture of giving up a seat moves to public displays of affection on the bus and dating in secret.

In broad terms, the novel is a tragic tale of young love in a poor neighbourhood. It’s not so much the Romeo and Juliet story in that there is only one family not keen on the relationship. Eleanor’s stepfather has already kicked her out of the house once. She is back on probation. There are 5 kids in all, the stepfather is abusing the mom and she is too exhausted to run. They are all stuck. Park is Eleanor’s salvation in the way that first loves are game changers. In the end the two are driven apart but there is still a redemptive ending, which I won’t spoil.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

See more reviews on Goodreads.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

International Dublin Literary Award 2016

I’m in Dublin and yesterday the 2016 International Dublin Literary Award longlist was announced. Here’s how it looks by the numbers:
160 books
10 of them Canadian
118 cities
44 countries
19 languages
6 judges
1 winner

The Canadian titles are (alphabetically by author last name):

  • Sweetland by Michael Crummey
  • Outline by Rachel Cusk
  • The Back of the Turtle by Thomas King
  • Us Conductors by Sean Michaels
  • The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill
  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  • Who by Fire by Fred Stenson
  • All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews
  • Will Starling by Ian Weir
  • The Lobster Kings by Alexi Zentner

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Ian Weir is on the Vancouver Sun Book Club with me and I reviewed Will Starling around this time last year.

If you’re new to this award, here are some interesting tidbits. Libraries in Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax, Ottawa, Saint John, St. John’s Sydney, Toronto and Winnipeg were among those that nominated books for the 2016 award.

Two Canadians have won the prize, the late Alistair MacLeod for No Great Mischief in 2002 and Rawi Hage for De Niro’s Game in 2008.

The International DUBLIN Literary Award was formerly known as the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Watch for this hashtag #DubLitAward

The book that received most nominations this year is Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See, chosen by 14 libraries in Canada, Germany, Greece, Ireland, The Netherlands and the USA.

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All the Light We Cannot See was one of my favourite titles last year.

The shortlist will be published on 12th April 2016 and the winner announced on 9th June.