“Eleanor and Park” by Rainbow Rowell

Those who pass up this book because it looks like it was written for fourteen-year-olds are really missing out. I first heard about Eleanor and Park from my mother, who told me I absolutely h15745753ad to read it. My mom typically reads books about women struggling to survive in East Asia or queens getting their heads cut off, so it was a strange recommendation coming from her. I went for it.

Eleanor and Park is the story of two teens in Omaha, Nebraska in 1986. Park is 5’4″, half-Korean, into punk music and black t-shirts, and doing his best to maintain just enough popularity in order to avoid being the weird kid. Eleanor is a big (she says fat) redheaded girl who dresses in eccentric clothes and is impossible not to notice, despite the fact that all she wants is to be invisible. When Eleanor sits next to Park on the bus on the way to school, Park is sure she’s ruined his stint of popularity for him. Over the course of a school year, Park and Eleanor slowly fall in love despite all the things holding them back. Eleanor and Park is a fantastic story of first love, how awkward it can be, and how it takes every last breath out of you.

Eleanor and Park is not a particularly fast read. I read it slowly and carefully, not wanting to miss a single detail. I’m a sucker for love stories, and this one captured me immediately. I felt like the characters were genuine and ridiculous – what most teenagers in love typically are. It was witty and cheesy and fun. It was awkward. It was everything you would expect a novel about two in-love teenagers in Nebraska would be. I also think it’s the best of Rainbow Rowell’s books, because there’s also a level of seriousness to the entire thing. People tend to dismiss high school romances, but Rowell does a fantastic job of presenting it as the most important thing that has ever happened to Eleanor and Park. It wasn’t something fleeting, it was forever.

Overall, I’d definitely recommend this book before any of Rainbow Rowell’s others. Fangirl and Attachments are both good in their own right, but in my opinion are fast reads and make no lasting impressions. Eleanor and Park is good for those who want to branch out into reading YA Fiction but don’t want to feel like they’re reading a book written for kids. It’s good for someone who wants to read a book about love and romance with an added layer of innocence.

Rating: 5/5!

 

“Dark Matter” by David Crouch

This book seriously messed with my head. Maybe it’s just been a little too long since I took dark-mattera science class, but if you ask the people on Amazon.com, it messed with their heads too, so I know it’s not just me.

“Dark Matter” tells the story of Jason, once aspiring physicist, current mediocre physics professor, living with his family in Chicago. I have no idea why but I imagined him as Kiefer Sutherland. We’ll roll with it. Anyway, Jason is more or less satisfied with his average life. He always imagines what it would have been like if he put his career before his family, but in general is happy with where he ended up. Until he gets kidnapped and shoved in a box and wakes up in a world where he did put his career first and his entire life has changed.

Jason wakes up in a world that is the same, yet not his own, with people he has never met. His wife is not his wife, his son was never born, and everything is familiar yet vastly different. He is determined to get back to the world that he knew, where his wife is his wife and his son exists, yet has no idea how to get there or what has happened to him. He spends the rest of the book trying to get back to them, encountering road blocks at every turn. It’s difficult to give an accurate description without giving the entire plot away, but there’s the gist of it.

“Dark Matter” was a quick read. While some of the sciencey parts required a couple of re-reads before I really figured it out, I got through the whole thing in one sitting. Crouch creates a tale that sucks you in far enough that you need to know what happens, and spend the whole book trying to figure it out. It was filled with twists I didn’t see coming, and I couldn’t put it down. If you’re a fan of science fiction and thrillers, this is definitely the book for you.

5/5

“City of Thieves” by David Benioff

Prior to reading “City of Thieves” by David Benioff, I knew pretty much nothing about Russia. Now I know that it sounds terrible. During World War II, at least.

benioffLev is a very self-conscious Jewish teenager living in Leningrad during World War II, trying his hardest to stay alive. When he gets arrested for looting the body of a German pilot, he finds himself stuck in a jail cell with Kolya, a twenty two year old Slavic deserter and aspiring novelist. Rather than being killed for their crimes, they are given a special assignment instead: the Colonel’s daughter is having a wedding in a few days, and she wants a wedding cake. So begins Lev and Kolya’s mission to find a dozen eggs to bake the Colonel a cake and spare their lives.

As ridiculous as the premise sounds, I was genuinely surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. Filled with dark humor, the relationship between Lev, a shy, awkward, teen, and the confident and cocky Kolya never ceased to be entertaining. Benioff communicates the horrors of war in a way that made me feel like I was laughing at all the wrong moments. For example, when he states that cannibals go for the buttocks first because that’s where you can make the best patties from. Horrifying, yet funny. Lev and Kolya’s misadventures provided a lighthearted story that is layered on top of a more dark and depressing narrative.

I typically have issues with books about Russia, mostly because the words are hard to pronounce and I had a bad experience with “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” in high school. However, Benioff provides an accurate picture of life in Russia while keeping things interesting enough to want me to keep reading. All in all a pretty solid piece of historical fiction with enough humor to keep me going, not too much romantic fluff, and characters I felt I could relate to on a personal level.

4/5

 

“The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood

We are simply going to ignore the fact that I haven’t posted a review since February.

atwoodIf you haven’t read “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood, stop everything you’re doing and go read it. I’m serious. I love this book. This is my second time reading the dystopian novel, and it was just as good as the first. Written in 1985, “The Handmaid’s Tale” isn’t exactly hot off the presses, but a surprising amount of people I know haven’t heard of it. Now you don’t have an excuse.

Atwood’s novel takes place in the totalitarian Republic of Gilead in the near-future. Society as we know it has collapsed and a new military has taken over, fueled by extreme religious motives that begin integrating their way into society slowly, at first, and then flipping the world upside down. In this new society, women are expected to go back to their original biblical purpose of existing only to be at the disposal of men. In this new society, women have been made barren from chemicals in the air, nuclear disasters, and sexually transmitted diseases, so those who have the ability to conceive are collected and re-educated into Handmaids, who will repopulate the Republic of Gilead. Those unable to conceive are declared Unwomen and sent away. Those who are lucky are made Wives of Commanders, but they are few and far between.

Offred, a Handmaid and our narrator and protagonist, exists for one sole purpose: to conceive. She lives under the control of her Commander and once monthly endures his visits in hopes she may become pregnant and avoid being declared an Unwoman. Like all handmaids, she is forced to wear long red dresses and white winged habits that block her vision and prevent her from seeing her surroundings in her cruel world. She lives a life in which she has no rights. Her name is not even her own, literally meaning Of Fred, taking the name of her Commander.

As we learn about Offred’s world and life in Gilead, we discover that this frightening dystopia is not far off from the present. Offred remembers a time where she had her own family, her own job, and a happy life where women were equal to men.

While many might think that this book sounds a little too far-fetched and feminist to be taken seriously, for me it shows just how quickly things can really go south. In a matter of a few years, everything Offred knows is taken from her and her life is completely changed. While the premise might sound impossible to those of us living the privileged life in the Western world, Atwood makes a point to keep things real by ensuring that all the events that have happened in the Republic of Gilead have also happened, at some point, in real life. If you’re looking for a good read that’s beautifully written and a bit of a reality check, “The Handmaid’s Tale” is definitely for you.

4.5/5