Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Bob's Pick: Final Round of the Dubuque Tournament of Books

It's the final round of the 2014 Dubuque Tournament of Books, and the judges are weighing in on the final match-up. Will it be And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini or Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell?

(Warning: Bob's review includes spoilers for And the Mountains Echoed)
Judge: Bob
Dubuque 365 Ink

My dear departed Irish Mother used to say that if I didn’t have anything nice to say then I should just shut the hell up. So, I won’t say too much about And the Mountains Echoed. The book was very well written but what he was trying to do with the structure was  very badly executed. Except for the first 50 pages or so, I was confused by all the characters. It’s a much different book than his first two. I have said this before in reviews I’ve done for 365inc; I DON’T LIKE SUICIDES AS A PLOT DEVICE. It’s pretty much a deal breaker for me. It tells me that the author can’t figure his way out of a corner he wrote himself into so let’s just kill her off. Nope. I’m not buying it.

And the Mountains Echoed had some stiff competition in Eleanor & Park so I have no sorrow in contributing “ATME” to the circular file.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, on the other hand, is a terrific book. I surprised myself by liking it as much as I did considering it’s an YA book and I don’t read too many of them. It’s the love story between two high school teenagers, both misfits and subject to abuse and bullying both at home and at school. 

Some of the reviews mention that it will make you think of the first time you fell in love. It did that for me but my situation turned out a lot different than the one in the book. My girl was very pretty and she turned out to be a viper, more commonly referred to by me as the Ice Witch From Hell. Well, it rhymes with “witch.” I got over it.

I had almost nothing in common with these two kids when I was in High School beyond the almost universal feeling of alienation felt by most kids their age. Catcher In The Rye was more like my story except I never knew anyone who killed themselves and I was never in a mental institution. But all that angst, you bet. I like very much how Eleanor and Park handled all the razzing at school, especially one incident that will make itself plainly evident when it occurs.

The story had to be constructed the way that it was to elicit the proper emotional response from an adolescent reader.  I generally don’t need to be beaten over the head with plot motivation. However, this was written, as I understand it, for the Young Adult reader who might need to have the obvious pointed out here and there. James Joyce and Thomas Pynchon don’t work their magic on most 16 year old high school students. Some yes, most no. For what it is, it’s almost perfect. Well written, three dimensional characters that I was rooting for all the way through the book, and the plot, such as it was, was real not contrived. I loved it.

I thought Eleanor & Park was a wonderful book consequently my vote goes to Eleanor & Park.

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