A Diversified If-You-Like-This-Try-This.
I guess it’s fair to say that Eleanor & Park was the book that really catapulted Rainbow Rowell into the position she’s currently in. I mean, not to discredit her other titles (Fangirl is my favorite, if you haven’t noticed) or anything. But it’s what most of us would consider our gateway to her, wouldn’t it? And I know a lot of you out there love it. So for today, I’ll be throwing recommendations for what to read next if you like Eleanor & Park.
Of course, in and of itself, Eleanor & Park has diversity in it. Park is half-Korean after all. But for these books I’m gonna talk about, I consciously picked novels with the MC(s) being of color and/or LGBTQ. Because these lives matter too, our lives. And just how Rainbow plainly put it in her website, “because it’s up to people like me, who write, to write them.”
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Dante can swim. Ari can’t. Dante is articulate and self-assured. Ari has a hard time with words and suffers from self-doubt. Dante gets lost in poetry and art. Ari gets lost in thoughts of his older brother who is in prison. Dante is fair skinned. Ari’s features are much darker. It seems that a boy like Dante, with his open and unique perspective on life, would be the last person to break down the walls that Ari has built around himself.
But against all odds, when Ari and Dante meet, they develop a special bond that will teach them the most important truths of their lives, and help define the people they want to be. But there are big hurdles in their way, and only by believing in each other—and the power of their friendship—can Ari and Dante emerge stronger on the other side.
At its core, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a story of love in all its complexity. It gave me that same bittersweet taste that Eleanor & Park has. The two MC’s are both Mexican-American, that’s one point for ethnic diversity. And another for gender identity. Also, this is one of those books that―while it’s about diversity―is so much more than just about diversity. Diversity is there not for the sake of diversity, but because it just is. Basically, I’d recommend this to anyone, any day.
Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
Gabi Hernandez chronicles her last year in high school in her diary: college applications, Cindy’s pregnancy, Sebastian’s coming out, the cute boys, her father’s meth habit, and the food she craves. And best of all, the poetry that helps forge her identity.
My mother named me Gabriella, after my grandmother who, coincidentally, didn’t want to meet me when I was born because my mother was unmarried, and therefore living in sin. My mom has told me the story many, many, MANY, times of how, when she confessed to my grandmother that she was pregnant with me, her mother beat her. BEAT HER! She was twenty-five. That story is the basis of my sexual education and has reiterated why it’s important to wait until you’re married to give it up. So now, every time I go out with a guy, my mom says, “Ojos abiertos, piernas cerradas.” Eyes open, legs closed. That’s as far as the birds and the bees talk has gone. And I don’t mind it. I don’t necessarily agree with that whole wait until you’re married crap, though. I mean, this is America and the 21st century; not Mexico one hundred years ago. But, of course, I can’t tell my mom that because she will think I’m bad. Or worse: trying to be White.
So. First love? Check. Low self-esteem? Check. Family dysfunction? Check check. Gabi’s a Latina and there are issues involving sexual orientation and gender roles. Obviously this screams Diversity. I must add, however, that I haven’t read this one. But award-winning Cuban-American author Meg Medina approves, says Quintero’s writing “gets at everything, all at once.” And, honestly, you can’t go wrong with that.
If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth
Lewis “Shoe” Blake is used to the joys and difficulties of life on the Tuscarora Indian reservation in 1975: the joking, the Fireball games, the snow blowing through his roof. What he’s not used to is white people being nice to him―people like George Haddonfield, whose family recently moved to town with the Air Force. As the boys connect through their mutual passion for music, especially the Beatles, Lewis has to lie more and more to hide the reality of his family’s poverty from George. He also has to deal with the vicious Evan Reininger, who makes Lewis the special target of his wrath. But when everyone else is on Evan’s side, how can he be defeated? And if George finds out the truth about Lewis’s home―will he still be his friend?
A relationship (in this case friendship) that’s built on a shared love of music? Does that ring a bell? Not to mention the MC is from a poor family. He also happens to be American-Indian and is often picked on at school. Again, I haven’t read this one but I’m totally sold. Mary Quattlebaum of The Washington Post wrote, “funny, poignant . . . Lewis is a wry, observant narrator.” Plus, this book is set in the ’70s and Eleanor and Park‘s in the ’80s.
ALSO. Jen of Pop! Goes the Reader published a very funky Fangirl-themed The Writing’s On The Wall! So much love for Rainbow Rowell and Fangirl! (PS. This article has nothing to do with Bookish and Awesome.)
Which of these titles have you read? Which ones will you read? Also, if you want to blog about your personal experience with Rowell or her books, grab that header image above and leave a comment below. I’ll link up to you in the coming articles! Or we can bring this to Twitter. YES! Share your Rainbow Rowell stories using the hashtag #RainbowRowellWeek. Again, Happy Rainbow Rowell Appreciation Week !
*Why this week you ask? Because it’s her birthday last 24th!