I think I must be confused about what “my genre” is… I always think of myself as a fantasy/dystopia girl. Give me magic, petticoats, and pretty young things raging against the machine any day!
And then inevitably, I get assigned to read some realistic fiction. I’ll be on a committee, or agree to some crazy scheme to write pseudo-academic dissections of which book contains the best love story, and I’ll find myself smack dab on page 1 of another story set in the real world, with real, messy, unmagical, normal people.
“But whyyyy?” the small, whiny voice in my head asks? Life is already depressing enough… why do I want to read about more of it?
I put these books down a dozen times, procrastinating until the last possible second when I actually have to get down to reading or admit to someone that I am not actually doing the thing I’ve been assigned to do. (See? Being a librarian isn’t totally perfect… you STILL get assigned reading like when you were in High School!)
And then it’s time to rip off the band-aid, and just get it done already.
And so I say “I’ll just read the first chapter…”
And then one chapter turns into five…five turns into 20… and before you know it, I’m eyebrows deep wading around in all these real, messy, unmagical, normal stories…and loving every moment of it.
I loved Eleanor and Park.
I loved The Fault in Our Stars.
How can I pick a favorite??
So much realness. So much feelness. So messy and untidy and heartbreaking and uplifting and funny funny FUNNY. And remembering. Remembering what it felt like to be a teenager again… when the world blazed with the light of ten thousand suns when it was wonderful, or when it felt like you were being pulled apart, molecule by molecule in a black hole of darkest despair when things were bad.
Eleanor and Park is a love song -- not just about the titular characters, but to the music of the time, riding on a wave of 80s nostalgia that has also brought us the delightful Stranger Things. Rainbow Rowell even made a playlist for each of her characters that you can listen to online, to really immerse yourself in the sounds of the story as you read along. It’s a story about finding love in the places you least expect to, and letting yourself accept the help of others when you were convinced there was no reason to ever expect help in the first place.
The Fault in Our Stars is a story about embracing love even when you know it’s not something you should be looking for in the first place. Because you know that it can’t last – won’t last – not because people are jerks, but because of the physical barrier of death that will prevent it from going on. But then finding out that you don’t care because love is so wonderful and precious and funny and amazing that it’s worth doing, even if the hurt of it is the most painful thing you can imagine… forget cancer.
So which of these stories is our winner?
At the end of Eleanor and Park, Park helps Eleanor escape to her Uncle’s house – and then she somehow, infuriatingly, doesn’t respond to any of his dozens and dozens of letters. It’s maddening! After six months, she does respond to one postcard, with three words, which the author leaves up to us to fill in. What are they? “I love you?” “Forget about me?” “Goodbye, sweet prince?” Grrrrr! Who knows? Optimists and romantics will say she professed her love. Cynics will say she let him go. Rainbow Rowell says it doesn’t matter because Park got LOVE out of it… and that having had that love is enough, no matter what the end result was.
Eleanor had a choice. Park was good and kind and pretty wonderful… and she chose to hurt him, and herself, too.
I don’t say this is unbelievable, because I remember doing some pretty dumb things as a teenager, too. Things I couldn’t explain. Illogical things. Silly teenage brains!!
At the end of The Fault in Our Stars, we find out that Augustus is even better that we knew… even though he’s dying and it hurts and it’s awful, he still uses what little of his physical self that remains to heap yet more gifts of love upon Hazel and to help her see that the hurt is worth it. He keeps giving and giving his love, even after he dies. He doesn’t forsake her. He doesn’t leave her alone and hating and morose. He leaves her with the gift of the light of his love. With the gift of how he sees their love. And she has that gift forever, and it will shape how she loves and is loved forever.
That’s love, right there. Helping the one you love up when they’re stumbling. Giving them your strength to lean on. Giving them love and light in the darkness.
No contest: If we're talking love stories, it's The Fault in Our Stars, for the win.