I came late to Rainbow Rowell, but I made up for it quickly. I am always tentative about taking on a new author, but when certain friends speak highly, I eventually give in. Even I have trusted advisors when it comes to reading. Eleanor & Park was the book that turned me into a fan. Yes,the book is YA. It is a difficult one though. It doesn’t have the happy ending where everyone gets what they want. Instead, I think most characters get what they need.
What I liked was that this book took place in my childhood. Eleanor and Park is about teenagers in the 80s. I remembered this time well. I might not have been a teenager in the same time period, but I remembered riding on a bus, the politics of high school, and mix tapes.
I was hooked after this one. As much as I love Fangirl and Carry On, the two books about people my age (Eleanor & Park and Landline) are the two I like the most. Why? Because I can see myself in these characters. I may not be married with children, but Georgie from Landline could have been me. The same for Eleanor. I could have been her if I had lived through similar circumstances.
We all like to see ourselves in books. Last week, on Facebook, I posted something about the 1000 Black Girl Books project. You can see a video about the project here. When people ask her why she is collecting books about black girls, Marley Dias tells people she was tired of reading books about white boys and their dogs. She wants to read books about character she can identify with. She wants books with characters she can see herself in.
For the past two weeks before this I wrote about the struggles I had with reading in middle school. Part of the problem was that I did not see myself in those books. I could not relate to these characters. As an adult I find it easier to read all books, but my favorites are the ones I do see myself in or could insert myself into. I think most of us read this way. If we want to get children to read books we have to start them with books they can connect with. We can push adults out of their comfort zones, but children still need that safe bubble.
I encourage you to donate either money or books to the 1000 Black Girl Books project. Not only does it give these libraries books that will help young girls enjoy reading, but it promotes diversity and encourages authors who write diverse characters. Let’s stop forcing kids to read books about white boys with dogs! Let’s read more about real kids with real problems of all races and gender identities!