Summer Reading: Eleanor & Park

When the author (John Green) of one of the best novels (The Fault In Our Starts) you have read in a long time highly recommends a book you go and read it.

That book is Eleanor & Park.

Rainbow Rowell’s novel doesn’t quite reach the emotional heights of The Fault In Our Stars (what could), but it does add a unique and strong voice to the burgeoning “young adult” genre.

I loved two things about this novel. First, this an author who writes a great high school love story that revolves around real people. There are no vampires, no wizards, no extraordinary/otherworldly challenges that the characters face. These are real kids who we went to high school with (or who we were in high school). Relatable characters can come in all shapes and sizes and in a variety of genres, but I don’t know of any other YA stories that nail real life high school like this does.

Second, Eleanor & Park has been cast as an interracial dating book, and I suppose that’s in there, but this novel is really about class, and class divisions, and the challenges of lower-income families and kids, and the challenges that come when lower-income kids interact with middle-income kids. And I think that is unique too. Class is just as large of a challenge for ¬†us to understand and talk about as race, and it creates just as many divisions. Rainbow Rowell handles it all with very skilled hands.

No spoiler alerts here. Read the book to the end. It is moving in all the right ways.

4 (of 5) stars

Summer Reading: Daring Greatly

Brene Brown gained quite a bit of internet fame due her TED Talk on vulnerability. And for good reason: the talk is amazing. No really, go watch it right now. If you’ve never seen it before it will be 20 of the best minutes of your day.

I’ve had her book, Daring Greatly, on my “to read” list for a while. I was hoping it would provide inspiration for me as I ponder our family’s future.

I was kind of disappointed though.

This is actually a good thing. I think I was expecting a rah-rah-g0-get-’em-don’t-waste-your-life kind of book, but instead her vision of daring greatly is much more mundane, much more normal than mine.

Again, this is a good thing. Instead of let’s go conquer the world, she offers hope and help for people who are trying to make their marriages work, trying to love their kids well, trying to succeed in their jobs. Not as sexy, but immensely practical.

Three things stood out to me. First, her stuff on wholeheartedness is outstanding. Wrapped up in that is the tension between ‘scarcity’ and ‘enough’. Most of us live in a scarcity worldview, when actually there is enough. Her point is that vulnerability and wholeheartedness are inextricably tied together…you don’t get one without the other. So, let’s have the courage to believe we have enough, and the vulnerability to let go of the scarcity worldview (I’ll never be enough, have enough, etc).

Second, she writes a great section on addiction towards the end of the book. One of the more convicting points had to do with how many of us don’t think of ourselves as addicts, but we all utilize coping mechanisms that she calls “taking the edge off.” Whether that’s a couple of extra drinks, or a couple of extra hours in front of the tv, it might not look like an addiction, but when we consistently (daily) rely on those things to “take the edge off” our stressful lives we are essentially addicts, just trying to escape reality. Ouch!

Finally, my favorite part of the book is that Brene is relentlessly honest about herself and her struggle with vulnerability. This is not just an academic topic of study for her. This has been a real life struggle, and her honesty is refreshing and makes the book far more readable than it might otherwise have been.