Last week I discovered that the book “Eleanor & Park” was causing a controversy in the Anoka-Hennepin School District. The book was part of the district’s summer reading program. A group in the school district objected to the book because it has “220 profanities.” Because of their pressure an appearance by the author, Rainbow Rowell, was cancelled.
I never make comments on a book unless I read it. So last Friday I went to Barnes & Noble to purchase a copy. I finished it last night.
Set in 1986 in Omaha, Nebraska the book explores a relationship between Park—a half-Korean kid—and Eleanor—a poor girl with red hair who doesn’t fit in to the culture of the school. Eleanor is constantly bullied by people on her bus and by girls in her school. Her physical safety is threatened by her violent, alcoholic, step-father.
But something clicks between Park and Eleanor. It’s fascinating to read about the slow development of their relationship. Their own anxieties and self-doubt reveal the life of a teenager. Every parent of teenagers would benefit from reading the book because it would give them a deeper understanding of their own kids.
The book uses language that I don’t use. If I heard my twelve-year old daughter use that language I would immediately ground her. But just because the book uses language that is profane doesn’t mean the school district or the leaders of the summer reading program support that use of language. Those leaders support the book because the book reveals something about ourselves. It can foster conversation about very important issues in our world.
The book has given me a clearer understanding of domestic violence and the impact it has on families. It pains me to think that many teenagers in the A-H school district live in the poverty that Eleanor experienced.
The use of profane language in the book reveals a culture that already exists. My daughter is not going to swear more because she read the “f” word in “Eleanor and Park. Just like she isn’t going to engage in inappropriate sexual activity because Park took Eleanor’s bra off. My daughter doesn’t live in a vacuum as the other students in the school district don’t. As a parent my task is not to protect her from the world, but to equip her to live in this world.
What’s important to me about any book is the quality of the literature. On this test the novel has done well. It was an Amazon Best Book of the Month and a New York Times best seller. The book won a Boston Globe/Horn Book Award. Common Sense Media gave the book a terrific review and recommended it for youth age 14 and above.
I’m glad the librarians of the A-H school district chose this book as part of a summer reading program. I’m glad that the book is in the libraries of the schools. I’m very disappointed that a visit by Rainbow Rowell was cancelled. As a parent of a middle-school daughter who attends school in the A-H school district and as a pastor of a church in Blaine, I would be willing to work with anyone to help promote a visit by her.
We can’t hide from our world. Rainbow Rowell did an outstanding job of portraying youth culture and evoking compassion for teenagers among her readers.