Thursday, March 6, 2014

Eleanor & Park VS Me Before You: Dubuque Tournament of Books, Round One

This week we'll be posting the judges' decisions for the first round of the 2nd Annual Dubuque Tournament of Books. To see an overview of the judges and contestants, check out this blog post.
Judge: Becky
Dear Me Before You,

It’s not you, it’s me. I promise I went into this with an open mind. I knew before I even started you weren’t my typical book.

You had everything going for you: an adorably British, refreshingly quirky female character, attitudinally challenged quadriplegic male lead, a love story, a castle, ethical questions, interesting family dynamics, a fabulous cover design AND you brought me to tears. How could I not love Lou? She shows character growth and just the right amounts of compassion and sassiness when dealing with the understandably melancholy Will. And Will. A differently-abled character that isn’t set up to evoke pity, or sorrow. He’s angry, frustrated, and just done dealing with people. The set up is fabulous. The narrative plays that delicate balance between saccharin and tart. And did I mention the tears? You broke my heart in the best way possible.

By all calculations, you should have won this battle. And I’d like to think that against most other books you would have. You just happened to be up against an even better book. I’m sorry. I really am. Don’t think of this as a break up. I truly enjoyed our time together, I just have to go with Eleanor & Park. But call me when you’re in town again and we’ll grab a drink.



My dearest Eleanor & Park,

You knew all along you were going to win this round, didn’t you? You’re sneaky like that. You tell us right off that Eleanor is gone. And that Park is heartbroken enough that he sees her everywhere she is not. You’re upfront about the fact that this won’t end well. And yet, somehow you draw me in. And make me cry. And come back for more. I thought maybe the second time that magnetic quality might be diminished. It wasn’t. It was actually stronger.

Eleanor’s reality, though bleak, is compelling and complex. Too often main characters are one-dimensional. Or given a singular hurdle or defining characteristic. Eleanor is large, poor, red-headed, and has a difficult home life; all without being stereotypical. Park, while seemingly better off, is still a bit of a misfit: a Korean-American boy who is a little too feminine for his father’s taste. On the outside they have very little in common, but somehow over music and comic books begrudging understanding happens. Soon, friendship is forged and finally romance blooms at the back of the bus.

Just like Eleanor and Park, I can’t explain why I like you. Scenes I can’t divulge are like a punch to the gut. And those few beautiful moments like the first time they hold hands shouldn’t be enough to make the rest of the story bearable. This isn’t your boy meets girl and they live happily ever after tale. It’s so much more than that. Reminding us that love isn’t always enough, or everything, or even easy. But it’s worth it; and so are you Eleanor & Park. So are you.

Yours forever and for always, (or at least until the next round),

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