Archive for the ‘St. Martin’s Griffin’ Tag

Opposites Do Attract   Leave a comment

Rainbow Rowell’s story of young love overshadowed by harsh realities is humorous, haunting, and hopeful. Alliteration aside, Rowell’s Eleanor & Park is a study in contrasts and seems to prove that opposites do attract.

The omniscient narrator alternates between the couple. Although this approach doesn’t establish distinct voices, the characters are well-defined. Bits and pieces of Eleanor’s unhappy home life are slowly revealed while suggesting impending misfortune. Park, on the other hand, has two loving parents and lives next door to his grandparents. Eleanor is the new girl in school. She’s overweight, has bright red, unruly hair and dresses in a way that only the addition of neon could attract more attention. Park isn’t Mr. Popularity, but he does straddle the line between acceptance and rebuff. He’s part Asian, dresses all in black, but has known the kids in his high school all his life. When Eleanor sits next to him on the bus, he’s embarrassed, but friendship, then romance slowly, oh so slowly, begins to emerge.

Among Rowell’s themes are bullying and abuse; these create tension in the novel. The sense of something going awry is palpable. Yet, so are the more positive aspects of emerging love and parental concern. References to Shakespearean tragedy add a sense of foreboding; nonetheless, this is a tale dependent on hope. The title characters are different, likeable, and prove that appearances aren’t everything. It’s unfortunate they live in world where extreme differences aren’t always appreciated and where it’s easy to hide dangerous secrets.

Eleanor & Park
Four Bookmarks
St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013
325 pages

Family Fairy Tales   1 comment

wintergarden

Often, stories within stories are enchanting, muddled, lopsided or boring. Fortunately, Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah is captivating without any confusion. One narrative is not more interesting than the other; both have equal appeal.

Much of what makes Hannah’s novel so successful is the clever way in which her characters evolve. Sisters Meredith and Nina are grown women who have always basked in the light of their father’s love. Meredith is the older sister, pragmatic and harried; Nina lives the adventurous life of a freelance photographer. Theirs is not a close a relationship. If not for Evan, their father, there would be little for anyone in the family to hold dear.

Unlike Evan, their mother is a cold, distant woman incapable of showing or articulating affection. This could be a black and white story, but Hannah has enough sense, and talent, to show the nuances. A secret past, painful memories and the harsh reality of war culminate in a fairy tale the sisters’ mother is ultimately compelled to tell. The story moves from the idyllic, contemporary life on the family’s apple orchard to cold, war-torn Russia. Like any good fairy tale, this one begins with a handsome prince, an evil overseer, and a young girl who falls in love.

As the fairy tale evolves, it’s clear this the only way the mother can explain herself and for her daughters to recognize their own strengths, weaknesses and connections. There’s nothing jumbled in either side of Hannah’s engaging account.

Winter Garden
Four Bookmarks
St. Martin’s Griffin, 2010
391 pages