book cover for Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Magan: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

book cover for Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (web | tweet)
Publication Date: February 26, 2013
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Pages: 320
Target audience: Young Adult
Keywords: young love, scary step-parents, biracial characters, curvy female YA characters
Format read: ARC from NetGalley (Thank you!)

Summary: Eleanor is the new kid at Park’s school; she dresses crazy and has big, red hair that makes her stand out in a crowd. On her first bus ride to school, Eleanor sits by Park who is agitated by having to share his seat. Slowly and beautifully, Eleanor and Park forge a friendship that leads to falling in love for the first time.

Dear Rainbow Rowell,

You forever and always will have me as a lifelong reader and fan of your work. Thank you for writing a book I will declare one of my favorite 2013 reads. Eleanor and Park completely and utterly absorbed me. Your writing is poetic, spot-on-descriptive, and made me want to cry because I could relate to every word you poured out.

From several glowing reviews I read before beginning your book, I was pretty sure it would be something I would love. I saw it described as “a cute love story” and “adorable.” But you see, Rainbow, while those things are accurate, for someone like me your story was so much more than young love. I felt like pieces of your story could have been written (though not nearly as perfectly, of course) by me. I, too, fell in love with my husband at a young age (when I was 16). Your words made me tear up at some of the most innocent scenes because I understood how Eleanor felt about her body — her insecurities about her curves and having to wear the same Goodwill clothes over and over because her family just couldn’t afford more.

I cringed when you made me remember what it was like to grow up in a home where friends weren’t welcome to come over because our living conditions were less than ideal. I understood how it felt to put up a front and to not let people’s comments (like Eleanor from her bullies) bother me because there were bigger, scarier things to worry about where my family was concerned. You explored these details so subtly, but for me, they stood out as if they were bolded and underlined.

What I feel most people will admire about your story is how Eleanor and Park so perfectly fall in love. Their love is sweet and innocent, but not without their fair share of complications to make it believable and realistic. Park has a few best friends who refuse to accept Eleanor. She has to lie about her whereabouts to her mom because her over-protective step-dad would flip if he knew she was spending time with a boy. But you know what I love most? The friendship that developed into more over time. It’s real. It’s not easy. They don’t always understand each other, but they’re gentle and kind and caring toward one another — falling in love despite (or maybe because of) their flaws.

All of this young love stuff? You got it so right. The slow build and trust issues were impeccably flawless. I held my breath for pages as you explored the meaningfulness of what holding hands for the first time with someone you’re falling in love with feels like. The significance of locking eyes and with that  boy when you’re so used to having your eyes glued to the ground, trying to be as invisible as possible, is immeasurable. Eleanor may have thought Park was too good to be true, and Park may have feared that their relationship was temporary because we’re taught that young love is fleeting, but Rainbow, you delivered a message that needs to be heard.

Sometimes, love saves our lives.

Please, please keep doing what you’re doing and sharing your talent with us all. I may go broke pre-ordering copies of your books for all my friends, but for the sake of spreading your stories, I vow to continue doing so.

Your biggest, newest fan,

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Book Cover for Skinny by Donna Cooner

Magan: Skinny by Donna Cooner

Book Cover for Skinny by Donna CoonerSkinny by Donna Cooner
Publication Date
: October 1, 2012
Publisher: Point
Pages: 272
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: gastric bypass surgery, body image issues, broadway, weight loss
Recommended by: Anna at Anna Reads
Format read: ARC from ALA (Thanks!)

Summary: Fifteen year old Ever is obese. She chooses to undergo gastric bypass surgery, with the support of her family, to make a positive change in her life and to halt the voice inside her head, Skinny, from telling her she’s not good enough.

Fifteen year old Ever weighs 302 pounds.

She hears the voice of Skinny who tells her she’s not beautiful, she takes up too much space, no one could love her. After the death of her mother, Ever began eating to recall her favorite memories they had together, most of which involved delicious treats. Ever is afraid to lose that part of herself so she sneaks Snickers bars into the bathroom stall at lunch or bags of M&Ms to her bedroom after dinner.

After a conversation with her step-sister, Briella, and an embarrassing moment in front of the entire school, she revisits a website she randomly stalked where gastric bypass patients or soon-to-be patients shared their struggles. With the support of her family, Ever decides to undergo the surgery in hopes of losing the weight, which could mean Skinny’s voice inside her head would finally go away, she might attract the attention of her long-lost best friend (Jackson) again, and she would maybe find the courage to try out for the school musical.

Ever’s voice was authentic and so honest. Skinny whispers lies to Ever that feed her insecurities. I, even at 27, struggle with the little voice inside my head that tells me I’m not beautiful and I don’t look good in my clothes. Skinny’s voice was a real eye-opener for me because I saw how hard it was for Ever to distinguish the lies from the truth. Her insecurities led her to believe things about her peers that weren’t true at all; it made her feel distanced, secluded, and so alone. I couldn’t help but wonder how many times my own self-doubts have gotten in the way of meeting amazing people or doing something because I was afraid of embarrassing myself.

Ever’s support system was pretty fantastic. Her best friend, Rat (yes, a so-very-unfortunate nickname), was a geeky boy who poured over the details of her surgery and did his best to make sure she was healing and progressing properly. He was by her side when she went under and when she got home with a chart to document her evolution. He creatively incorporated a way to tap into Ever’s emotional state by having her select a Broadway song to match her mood each week.

Rat was one of my favorite people, but I also felt a pull toward Briella from the very first pages and hoped she was more than the judgmental girl Ever labeled her to be. Ever’s dad was a tough cop, but I enjoyed his vulnerability and that the loss of his wife wasn’t glossed over or made better by his remarriage. From Gigi (the crazy-haired girl in her drama class) to Jackson (her childhood crush) to Charlotte (the stepmother who didn’t try to replace Ever’s mom) – every character had their place.

I’ve been through the battle of seeing the scale go both up and down. Each time I’m working to lose weight, I have to get over the voice inside my head that says my work has all been for nothing, that there’s been no physical change. Ever’s weight loss is quite significant and despite her achievement, she has a hard time facing herself in the mirror. She’s afraid to hope for the positive change (always afraid of failure). She struggles with the attention she gets from her peers (Does popular girl Whitney really care about her or does she just want to show off her charity case?) and she has a hard time letting go in drama class because for so long, she wanted to be invisible.

Ever’s story is a beautiful demonstration about how weight loss (or body image issues, in general) aren’t just about the external. The exterior is just a facade; it’s the internal barriers and emotions that must be broken down to accept the change and move forward. It’s not just about a number decreasing on the scale but also the belief that we are good enough, that we’re worth it… that we’re beautiful. Whether you’re 15 or 45 years old, I believe Skinny will speak volumes to you.

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