Tag Archives: high school

Love on the Fringe: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

cover image of Eleanor & Park1. Love–Fiction. 2. Dating (Social Customs)–Fiction. 3. High Schools–Fiction. 4. Schools–Fiction.  These library catalog subject headings usually signal a YA love story, often one that teachers and high school librarians will love, and so it is with Eleanor & Park, the second novel by Rainbow Rowell.

Eleanor & Park is a love story set in high school in 1986, a little before the time the author herself graduated from high school, I’d guess. If you were in high school in the 80s, the many music references in the book may resonate more with you than they did with me.

Park is a boy whose half-Korean attractiveness and martial arts talent keep him close enough on the fringes of popularity to remain below the radar of the dominant crowd at school, always on the lookout for outliers and the strange. He lets the new girl on the school bus sit down when no one else will. Right from the first moment he sees her coming down the aisle, Park realizes that Eleanor will be nailed as an outlier. Eleanor is wearing clothes of her own styling; is a bit overweight; towers over Tina (the petite leader of the pack); and has a huge mass of curly hair, in a highly noticeable shade of red. What makes him scoot over for her to let her sit down, he wonders even as he does it. Why endanger his own status when he’s only got one year left of obnoxious high school life to endure?

Eleanor and Park slowly, almost reluctantly connect through a shared love of Watchmen (back when graphic novels were still comic books, and were not cool) and music, the less pop the better. Eleanor has a very troubled home life, including a nasty, abusive stepfather she has already run away from once. Park has a more stable, loving home environment but his father sets unreasonable standards for him – making Park learn to drive a stick shift before he can get his license, for example.

Hugely popular YA author John Green gave Eleanor & Park a glowing review in The New York Times, making Eleanor & Park the new YA/adult crossover phenomenon – the book to read after you’ve read The Fault in Our Stars. Eleanor & Park is a heartbreaking love story that succeeds in making believable the idea that, even in the throes of the most horrendous high school experience, there is the possibility of finding the love of one’s life.

Eleanor & Park
Rowell, Rainbow
St. Martin’s Griffin
February 2013
336 pp
$18.99 US / $21.99 CAN

Disclosure: I borrowed this book through my public library system.

Other opinions of Eleanor & Park (all excellent):
Devouring Texts
Estella’s Revenge

The Picky Girl
Your Friendly Librarian


Big-Time Abandonment Issues: Quarantine, Book 1: The Loners

Cover image for QuarantineQuarantine: The Loners, first in a planned trilogy by two screenwriters under the pen name Lex Thomas, may feed young readers’ desires for another book like The Hunger Games (Moms having now moved on to Fifty Shades of Grey) but this action-packed thriller describes its violent fights to the death in more gory detail than The Hunger Games trilogy, and the characters (all high school-aged) are much edgier in language and attitude. Aimed at an audience of older teens who can’t get enough of the popular teens-survive-the-apocalypse stories, Quarantine: The Loners is also likely to thrill younger teens, with its aura of menace from attack by warring factions, and prevalence of casual sex (mentioned, but not described) among the ruins of a school.

Stronger in plot than character development, Quarantine: The Loners starts fast and keeps going, opening with a scene of desperate kids fighting each other in packs for airdropped supplies.

A black military helicopter eclipsed the view of the sky and lowered its giant cargo through the opening. Pallets of food, water, and supplies were lashed together into a single block the size of a school bus. The mass of supplies breached the slash and hung there, suspended by a cable forty feet above them.
The cable detached with a plink. The block of pallets fell. It cracked onto the ground and broke apart, scattering supplies all over the quad. As the helicopter retreated, an unseen mechanism mended the slit in the gray canopy. The kids on the perimeter bolted from the school walls and charged the mound of supplies. Colors collided. All around David kids kicked, clawed, and stomped each other to get at the food.
David never thought high school would be this hard.

On the worst first day of school ever for kids at the new McKinley High School (even worse for the teachers and administrators), David and his younger brother Will have just arrived and found their first classrooms in the gigantic, brand-new school building when the whole East Wing explodes as if from a bomb. Teachers and all other adults die immediate, gruesome deaths as if from some instantaneous Ebola-like virus. As David searches for Will to get him out and away from the scene of the disaster, lines of soldiers surround the school, armed with assault rifles and firing on any students who try to escape. Under armed guard, exit doors are welded shut and the entire building is covered in some type of tarp.

The night before, David, a former football star and good-times guy changed by the recent death of their mother, had made an enemy of the new football team captain (who his girlfriend was cheating on him with) so he is on his own, focused only on taking care of Will who is going to be without his epilepsy medicine in the months-long quarantine ahead. Loners are in grave danger of dying, though, in this new society free of adult supervision, as the high school hierarchy with football players and cheerleaders at the top solidifies into dictatorship and cliques transform into vicious gangs.

With a new school year approaching, Quarantine: The Loners is a good choice for August reading, like a pumped-up Lord of the Flies. Kids already nervous about the first day, though, may want to avoid this nightmarish vision of high school.

Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of Quarantine: The Loners from Egmont USA through NetGalley.

Quarantine: The Loners
Thomas, Lex
Egmont USA
July 10, 2012


Decade of Decay: The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel

Cover image of The Lola QuartetIf it’s true that your twenties are the “Defining Decade” – the crucial, formative years that determine how the rest of your life will go – then the troubled young adults in Emily St. John Mandel’s third novel, The Lola Quartet, are definitely screwed. Their lives have all gone off the rails, somewhere along the line. Depression and decay lurk everywhere in the oppressive heat of Sebastian, Florida, the town where they grew up and to which they eventually return.

The third novel by Canadian-American author Emily St. John Mandel, The Lola Quartet is composed of vignettes, whose order at first appears random and tangential, before their connections and intersections gradually become apparent. Ten years after high school graduation, when they dissolved the Lola Quartet and went their separate ways, the four former members of the prize-winning high school jazz ensemble – Gavin, Daniel, Sasha, and Jack – are brought back into tangential contact with each other through their connection to Sasha’s younger half-sister – the tough, vulnerable, and elusive Anna.

The novel’s structure and style seems inspired by the style of quick-shifting gypsy jazz music, as performed by the real-life master guitarist Django Reinhart, who is idolized by Liam Deval, one of the many musicians in the novel. Here’s the description, from early in the book, of Liam Deval’s jazz guitar duo that Gavin is listening to after his life has imploded. Gavin has a sense that these performances he is witnessing are momentous, but doesn’t know that Liam Deval plays another role in his story, as well:

Arthur Morelli was older, an unsmiling man in his late thirties or early forties who played with a heavy swing. In his solos he wheeled out into wild tangents, he pushed the music to the edge before he came back to the rhythm. Liam Deval looked about Gavin’s age, late twenties or early thirties, the star of the show: a perfect counterpoint to Morelli, all shimmering arpeggios and light sharp tones. Gavin had never seen anyone’s hands move so quickly. His skill was astonishing. Jazz slipped into gypsy music and back again, a thrilling hybrid form. Gavin knew it wasn’t new, what they were doing, but it was the first time he’d encountered it live.

The Lola Quartet’s structure of intersecting stories building atmospheric tension reminded me of Dan Chaon’s Await Your Reply. If you liked Await Your Reply, you should definitely add The Lola Quartet to your to-read list. (Just keep in mind the description of Await Your Reply in The New York Times Sunday Book Review: “ambitious, gripping and unrelentingly bleak.”)