‏Eleanor & Park (Audiobook) by Rainbow Rowell, Rebecca Lowman, Sunil Malhotra

Eleanor & ParkEleanor & Park

by Rainbow Rowell, Rebecca Lowman & Sunil Malhotra (Narrators)

Unabridged Audiobook, 8 hrs., 57 min.
Listening Library (Audio), 2013
Read: May 31 – June 1, 2016


Okay, so yesterday I talked about a book that was hurt by the audio narration — this is one that’s helped by it (but not much, because it really doesn’t need much). I read this back when it came out, and gave it 4 Stars — which boggles my mind, was I a harsher grader back then? I remembered liking it more than that, though. Anyway, this audiobook is the perfect example of what the medium can be.

It perfectly captured the flavor, the emotion and the detail of the original. Now, it didn’t become all about the performance, the narrators brought the words to life, but not at the expense of the text.

Lowman and Malhotra were spectacular — they were Eleanore and Park. You fall for them while the characters were falling for each other, and when they expressed emotion, you certainly felt it. Well, I don’t know about “you,” but definitely me.

I’m really not sure what else I can say. This is a perfect story about first love, how it defines who you are in a way you didn’t expect — how it reveals the best of you and improves the worst of you. Using these two social misfits to tell this story grounds it in a way that the Prom King and Queen couldn’t — I just loved it. It’s probably the best thing Rowell’s done, and it’s one of the best audiobooks I’ve ever heard.

—–

5 Stars

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Landline by Rainbow Rowell

LandlineLandline

by Rainbow Rowell

Hardcover, 310 pg.
St. Martin’s Press, 2014
Read: August 13, 2014

If the last few years have taught us readers anything, it’s that if you want quirky, honest, heart-felt romance with real (and usually moderately overweight) people and solid laughs, Rainbow Rowell will consistently deliver for you. And if you don’t think you want that, after you read her, you’ll realize that’s just what you wanted after all. She has two YA books and now two Adult books to her credit. Her latest, Landline delivers the typical Rowell magic in her story, but this time she included something else: actual magic. Sort of.

Georgie McCool is half of a pretty successful TV writing team who are thiiiiis close to being much more successful, all they have to do is crank out a handful of scripts in the next couple of weeks and they’re in a great position to sell their first series. The catch is, this involves working over Christmas — despite Georgie’s plans to go to her mother-in-law’s in Omaha with her husband, Neal and their two daughters. Georgie says that she can’t pass up this opportunity, so Neal and the girls go off without her.

Georgie sees this as a regrettable occurrence, but one of the sacrifices she has to make to get her dream show made. Her mother, step-father and sister see it as her husband leaving her, and Georgie ends up staying with them. Which gets Georgie to worrying — especially when she can never seem to reach Neal on the phone during the day. At night, however, when her iPhone battery is dead, she has to resort to the landline in her old room and she ends up talking to Neal back before they got engaged.

Don’t ask. It makes no sense. She never bothers to explain. And it doesn’t matter. Georgie eventually figures out that’s what’s going on and she rolls with it, and the reader does, too.

These conversations, as well as the absence of her family, lead Georgie on a path down memory lane, reflecting on the beginning of their relationship and how it changed as they did. Maybe Neal had made a mistake choosing her. Maybe she’d ruined her life (and his) by choosing him. Would they have both been better off going their separate ways? Or was there something worth fighting for now? Would that matter? The clock is ticking — for Georgie’s marriage (both now and then) and her career. Is she up for it?

The tension is real, the apprehension, fear, and self-doubt (for starters) that Georgie is wrestling with is very obvious and palpable. Yet while focusing on this, Rowell’s able to create a believable world filled with a lot of interesting people. There’s Georgie’s partner/best friend, Seth and another writer on their current (and hopefully future) show — and Georgie failing to hold up her end of things there, as much as she tries.

Then there’s her sister, mother and step-father. They’re much better developed (probably only because we spend more time with them). Her mother’s a pretty implausible character, yet not a cartoon, she’s a pug fanatic, married someone much younger than her, and generally seems really happy. Her sister’s about done with high school and is figuring herself out (and mostly has) — she’s a hoot, and my biggest problem with the book is that we don’t get more of Heather. Not that there wasn’t plenty of her — and it’d require the book to take a far different shape. We get whole storylines about all the non-Neal people in her life, little vignettes showing us their character, giving us smiles in the midst of Georgie’s crisis, like:

“Kids are perceptive, Georgie. They’re like dogs”–she offered a meatball from her own fork to the pug heaped in her lap–“they know when their people are unhappy.”
“I think you may have just reverse-anthropomorphized your own grandchildren.”
Her mom waved her empty fork dismissively. “You know what I mean.”
Heather leaned into Georgie and sighed. “Sometimes I feel like her daughter. And sometimes I feel like the dog with the least ribbons.”

Not only do the supporting stories, or even the little moments like this fill out Georgie’s world and make it more interesting, they provide a breather for the reader from having to deal with the disintegrating marriage.

I know some people think we spend too much time in flashbacks, where Georgie’s remembering how she and Neal met, got to know each other, and started seeing each other, etc. But we need that. If all we get is Neal in the present, or past-Neal on the phone, we’re not going to care enough. Especially in the first couple of scenes we get with Neal, it’d be real easy to see him as unsympathetic — the guy holding Georgie and her career back. We need these flashbacks so the reader can sync their feelings about Neal with Georgie’s, so that when we read something like:

Georgie hadn’t known back then how much she was going to come to need Neal, how he was going to become like air to her.
Was that codependence? Or was it just marriage?”

or

She needed him.
Neal was home. Neal was base.
Neal was where Georgie plugged in, and synced up, and started fresh every day. He was the only one who knew her exactly as she was.

find ourselves agreeing with her, or at least seeing why she says it.

At the end of the book, there’s a lot of plot lines dangling — some very important ones, actually. Enough so, that normally, I’d devote a paragraph to complaining about it. But I won’t this time — it works for Landline. There’s a lot for Georgie to work out herself, she’s really only settled on the one most important thing, leaving the rest to be resolved another day. And that’s got to be good enough for the reader.

Not her best, but Rowell on an off day is still really, really good.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

In Medias Res: Landline by Rainbow Rowell

as the title implies, I’m in the middle of this book, so this is not a review, just some thoughts mid-way through

—–

Landline
Landline

by Rainbow Rowell

I’m on page 153 of 308 — as close as you can get to half-way (at least if you stop at the end of a chapter), and I’m all in on this book. It’s told with Rowell’s trademark warmth and charm. It’s funny, but not hilariously so; tragic, but not heartbreaking (yet); romantic, without being sappy; and real, without being . . . non-fiction?

Yeah, okay, that sentence got away from me.

This is a story about a marriage on the rocks, about the beginning of this romance, maybe about its end, friendship, priorities, and a magic telephone. Most of these are themes not new to Rowell, but that are in constant demand as fodder for stories. Rowell’s doing a bang-up job so far, I’m really pulling for this couple (in both the beginning and at the later part of the relationship). As always, Rowell gives us real people — people we could know, people we would befriend, people we could be.

At this point, I can see a few ways this could end — all of which are entirely justified by what’s come so far, and the vast majority of them end with me risking alcohol poisoning. I’m really liking Georgie McCool that much (and yes, that is her real name).

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl
Fangirl

by Rainbow Rowell
Hardcover, 438 pg.
St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013

No one can write messed-up characters like Rainbow Rowell can — socially awkward, clever, emotionally scarred, and incredibly likeable. A lot like many people.

Speaking of likeable, it takes no more than a few pages, maybe even a couple of paragraphs before Cath wins the reader over completely. Okay, so she’s a little too into this semi-Harry Potter world, and spends what many would consider an unhealthy amount of time on her fanfic — but she gets great grades, and something resembling a social life, who’s to judge? She’s having a hard time adjusting to college life — her identical twin (Wren — get it?) is taking the opportunity to go out on her own, and Cath’s just not ready for that. For the first time in her life, she’s really not half of a set, and that takes a toll on her esteem, confidence, and — actually — everything. Her high school boyfriend being in another state and mostly incommunicado makes it all worse.

Slowly, Cath starts to find a place in college — makes a friends (most of which are worth having). There’s a lot of ups and downs along the way — there’s plenty of family drama — friction between the sisters, emotional troubles for their dad at home, and a lot of unresolved issues surrounding their mother’s/wife’s abandoning the family years ago. Which doesn’t help out her schoolwork at all — and drives her further into her fanfic.

This is done in such a way that it doesn’t feel like silly teen/young adult dramatics — it feels like a rough patch that a dear friend is going through. The former would be easy for many authors to evoke, and I’d probably end up walking away from the book. But because Rowell can make us feel the latter, we pull for Cath, and keep reading on, getting further invested in her character.

There are bright spots — Cath and others make some progress in dealing with troubles from their past, Cath meets some fans of her fanfic, and — not at all surprisingly — there’s some fun (and awkward) and heartwarming romance kindled.

I know precious little about fanfic, honestly — I’ve read a few authors pouring out the hate for it, and some defending and/or celebrating it. I hardly have enough time to read the original works set in the worlds I like, I certainly have no time for the “unofficial” takes on it. So I really didn’t care about Cath’s passion for her hobby — or for those who had a different take on it. I thought Rowell dealt with it pretty well, on the whole, and was fair enough to both poles while staying fairly realistic.

Not as gut- and heart-wrenching as Eleanor & Park, but told with the same amount of heart (and more laughs). This is one of those books that when you see the end coming, you start to read slower, because you’re just not done with these people yet. If she had the story, I’d have read another few hundred pages just to stick with Cath, Wren, Levi, Reagan and the rest for a little longer — honestly, I’d have done it without the story.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor and ParkEleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another win for Rowell — this time, she charms with a story of a high school couple’s first love. Utterly charming, you effortlessly fall under the spell of these two, while from page one you know this isn’t going to end the way you want it to.

Park’s a pretty standard good kid — nice family, father’s a bit overbearing, into comics, Tae Kwon Do, punk and new wave music (hey, it’s 1986, don’t hold it against him). He doesn’t fit in as well as he should socially (his half-Korean-ness in a heavily white school doesn’t help), but overall he seems pretty well-adjusted.

Eleanor, on the other hand, isn’t. It takes most of the book to figure out just how messed up she is and why, but from early on, you get the picture of someone from a very damaged home just trying to be as normal as she can be (answer: not very).

These two meet on the school bus and eventually fall head-over-heels, and watching them figure out how to be in love, how to accept affection and differences . . . it just melts your heart.

Not as good as Rowell’s Attachments, but a winner nonetheless. Can’t wait for whatever she brings to the table next.