What I Learned From Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park
I mainly review self-published works because I encounter so many blogs that specifically and intentionally go out of their way to say suck it to self-published authors. That’s fine. That’s what they want to do. However, despite my reviewing habits, I tend to read mass published books as well. One of which was Eleanor and Park.
One thing that caught me right away from this book was that it was YA, and that by itself was not bothersome, but rather, that it wasn’t your normal YA. Let me explain.
Having written four books that are considered Middle Grade—despite Middle Grade encapsulating a vast and varied field of kids—I know well the tropes and guidelines of YA. In fact, that is usually how most people differentiate the two.
Middle Grade consists of protagonists the same age as its readers (between 8-12), is presented in third person, and is, for the most part, clean—meaning no bad language or sex. If there is love in the stories, they should be the platonic type: holding hands, furtive glances, etc.
Young Adult is a whole other ballpark. Although the protagonists must be in there teens or even tweens (part of the middle grade realm), the readers can be any age, all the way up to adult and older (senior citizens?) It is almost always done in first person—quite possibly to get that snarky teenage voice—and MUST have elements of sex, which doesn’t mean it has to be explicit, though it can be.
So by now, I hope you see where this doesn’t match up. Not only is there a natural tendency against Middle Grade—because the readers should be the same age as the protagonists—but also with Rainbow Rowell’s book, she breaks many of the YA standards.
First of all, it is one hundred percent in deep third person—and done amazingly well. You still feel totally immersed in the character’s thoughts and lives, and it pulls you along quickly. I loved it.
Second, though about first teenage love, the sexual element is almost non-existent. True, there are times that cold water should be dumped on either of the main characters, but we never get anything unquestionable.
And there’s the rub: YA stories can do whatever they want, while Middle Grade is shunned because it’s somehow not age worthy or too immature. And that’s not to belittle Rainbow Rowell’s book. I thought every note was pitch perfect. It’s just that, in the end, it pointed out the distinct bias and difference between two genres: the popular group and…the dismissed.