Tough call on this one. I honestly don’t know what I would have picked, I’ve been thinking about it for the last couple of days and I change my mind all the time.
Eleanor & Park is quite lovely. It charts the blossoming relationship of smart, funny, quirky Eleanor and sweet, honourable, passionate Park. Eleanor has a pretty tough home life – she lives in poverty and fear with her violent stepfather and many damaged siblings. Park has a loving and supportive family but still feels that he doesn’t quite fit. Their connection and the growing trust between them, as well as the quite serious issues Eleanor has to deal with at home, is handled very gently and sensitively. But this is YA faction. So that means we have two teenagers handling things way too well, being crazy and beautifully in love, being really good people and explaining all their feelings and actions. Also, as Kevin Guilfoile points out, it’s pretty coy about sex. My issue isn’t with the book, which I really liked, or even with the YA genre, which has certain conventions and is aimed at a certain audience even when it transcends that group.
On the other hand, The Lowland has characters behaving in all sorts of ways to each other. They are often not very nice and certainly rarely ideal but, hey, that’s people. Instead of being presented with each character’s reasoning and emotional process it is left to the reader to piece them together and, unlike Eleanor and Park, they don’t always want the best for others or even for themselves sometimes. As I reader, I really like being given the room to figure out a character myself and being trusted to draw my own conclusions. And the language in The Lowland is incredibly beautiful especially, as Judge Attenberg points out, when describing scenery. She quotes some of it here. Like Judge Attenberg, however, I was left cold by this book. I mean I do think the coldness and remove was an intentional aspect so it may have achieved its aims. Apart from that I kept thinking that I’d read it before somewhere, so much of it was neither original nor striking (except in its prose).
So, like Judge Attenberg, I enjoyed Eleanor & Park more than I enjoyed The Lowland. The Lowland was definitely the more accomplished book though. Like I said, I don’t know which way I would have gone but I’m perfectly happy with how Judge Attenberg did it for me.