For Never Was a Story of More Woe

Ah, doomed romances. Where would literature be without them? Love is decidedly tricky, and so naturally, stories about the trials and travails of romantic relationships comprise a gigantic percentage of fiction. I just finished two books revolving around the love lives of their characters, and while you'd think I'd relate more to the one about adults, it's the one that focused on high school students that really shone.

The first book was Summerlong, a 2015 book by Dean Bakopoulos. Over the course of one sweltering summer, a handful of people in an Iowa neighborhood re-evaluate their lives, and as one marriage crumbles, both the husband and wife find themselves drawn to other people, who are also involved with each other. It sounds very Melrose Place-ian, but these characters are a lot more emotionally mature, and at least attempt to do right by themselves and others, while still searching for a way to be happy.

Still, the book falls prey to Annoying Protagonist Syndrome a bit. Why should I care what Claire wants to do with her life if she's going to be such a relentless chore? If all ABC wants to do is reconnect with the spirit of her dead girlfriend, what is she hoping to accomplish by messing around with everyone who gives her the side-eye? Overall, it wasn't a bad book at all, just not one that has anything particularly interesting going for it. The characters aren't terrible people, they're just not very people-like. They seem to do things purely to drive the plot forward, rather than acting like people actually would. This book would be a good airplane read, but not one that will ever hold a place of honor on your bookshelf.

The other book was Rainbow Rowell's celebrated 2013 book, Eleanor & Park. I'd call it YA, but I'm not sure what age range it's aimed at, since the characters say "fuck" an awful lot. This book's characters are a lot more understandable, even when they're making questionable decisions. Park is a half-Asian kid who gets along in school by keeping his head down, but all that changes when he falls for new student Eleanor, who has wild red hair and wears threadbare, patchwork clothes to school. Far from being hipsters, these are kids who don't fit in for very valid reasons, and they approach each other with caution, fearing rejection for all sorts of reasons.

They begin to bond over music and comic books, but the circumstances of their home lives are a constant threat to their happiness. I really liked how the story unfolded in a very realistic way. Not everything works out the way they want, but neither are they doomed from the start. Eleanor and Park strike me as people that could actually exist, instead of acting like, well, characters in a book, and that's apparently harder to pull off than it sounds.

Summerlong: B-
Eleanor & Park: A-


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