svyalitchat: geneeste: jenndoesnotcare: svyalitchat: An…





An Example of the the Power And Importance of SV in YA Lit

Last week, I Tweeted about an incident that happened surrounding the book Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell.  Rainbow Rowell had been disinvited to a school after parents complained about the content in her book, Eleanor and Park.  I compiled those tweets into a post which you can read here.  In response to the situation, a reader reached out to me and asked that I please share the following anonymously.  Here it is in its entirity.  Warning, there are triggers as it discusses abuse.

By the time I was in the 8th grade, my parents were divorced.  One year I lived with my mom and the next I lived with my dad.  My mom had moved out of state and there I was, a young barely teenage girl living with my dad.  It began slowly, so slowly I almost didn’t know anything was happening.

First, the shower curtain was replaced with a clear shower curtain.  My dad always seemed to need to brush his teeth while I was showering.  So I began locking the door.  Soon, the bathroom door lock was broken.  So I began pulling out the drawers in the bathroom sink so he couldn’t open the door.  He would stand outside the door banging and yelling, “You open this fucking door right now.”  Soon I stopped showering.

Swimming had always been one of my favorite things to do.  But he took that too.  Often, when we would go swimming, he would grab the front of my bathing suit and pull it down.  It didn’t matter who was around.  I would pretend I had homework.  I would pretend I was sick.  I would do anything to get out of going swimming.  That too was often a fight.

The next year it was time once again to live with my mother.  That year was a breath of fresh air.  No one watched me shower.  No one watched me dress.  But as Christmas slowly approached, so did the fear of what would happen when I had to go visit my dad.  So one day, I went and talked to the school counselor.  You see, I wasn’t sure if what I thought was happening that year really was happening.  It felt wrong, it terrified me, but nobody talks about those types of things.  I knew it wasn’t rape, but what was it?  So I went to the school counselor thinking she would tell me that everything that had happened was misconstrued and I would know that I was wrong.

After I told her my story, she sat back in her chair and said, “I’m sorry.  I am legally required to call the police now.  I promise you, this is going to be okay.  You don’t have to go back there.”  And I didn’t, I never went back.  And I was so glad because someone had told me what I needed to know and helped me.  They had finally helped me give voice to the fear inside me and affirmed that I was right to think what was happening was abuse.

I couldn’t help but think of my own story when I read Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell.  There is no bathroom door at Eleanor’s house, and like me, she is forced to find ways to take showers – or not to take them as the case may be – when her stepdad is not around.  As I read her story I knew exactly what she was feeling, and I wished this story had been there for me when I was a teen.  I wished that someone had told me that abuse can be many things.  But I was glad to hear that someone was giving my story a voice and telling teens today – you shouldn’t have to live like this, it is not okay.

When I read Eleanor and Park, I cried.  I cried because no one should have to go through the things that Eleanor goes through.  I cried because I knew every moment of fear and despair and doubt that she felt.  I cried because someone was finally telling my story.  If we say that teens can’t or shouldn’t be reading Eleanor and Park, we are saying that they shouldn’t be reading my story – that I should keep quiet and be ashamed, even though I did nothing wrong.  Even though that very quiet and shame is what allowed this to happen to me, because I wasn’t quite sure if it was abuse or not.  Imagine what a difference this book would have made.


When my best friend read this she said “I was with Eleanor, tiptoeing, waiting for it to get bad” and I just thought, fuck. I needed this book to be a better friend.

Okay, so I need to talk about something here, because this brings up a major (and really only) problem that I had with Eleanor & Park. Before I begin, I want to make something really clear: I love this book. I love the main characters, and I think it’s an important book for a number of reasons.

The bit that bothers me, and why I haven’t talked about the book until now, is that Eleanor doesn’t go to the counselor. And I can understand that – she is a teenager and really vulnerable. But the fact is, several adults who seemed to have had an idea that abuse was occurring, and one adult who SPECIFICALLY knew that abuse was occurring and would probably escalate, chose not to call in authorities who could help. 

Not one able adult called Child Protective Services, the Police, a counselor – none. It’s not even clear that Eleanor’s Uncle and Aunt did (in fact, given that the town gossip doesn’t mention it, I assume they didn’t). And that really, really bothers me. It’s possible that they could have called and nothing would have happened, that’s true. But not one adult – and these were written as otherwise self-aware and proactive and responsible characters – even tried to do this, which just does not sit well with me.

In the end, I feel like all of the adults in Eleanor’s life failed her, for no particular reason other than no one thought to pick up a phone or talk to an expert on the subject. There’s nothing in the book that addresses this oversight, or makes it understandable to me. And that’s a thing that worries me: because, yes, it’s made clear that Eleanor’s situation, that the behavior of her stepfather is very, very wrong, but it also doesn’t do much of anything to show the reader how adults can help right this wrong.

And if the book had commented on the fact that adults sometimes – maybe quite often – fail to help teens in dire situations, I might be able to look past it. Instead, it doesn’t even address it. I know as an adult – one who as a teen had an unrelated adult intercede on my behalf to prevent the threatened abuse of a parent – I know exactly what I would have done, which was called the authorities. It may not have helped, but I would have at the very least tried, and I don’t know another responsible adult who wouldn’t.

I don’t know. I’m sure the author had a reason for this (I can’t fathom that she didn’t, since the rest of book is so well written and conceived). Having said that, I’m not worried that kids are going to get the wrong message from Eleanor and Park’s relationship or Eleanor’s very disturbing situation with her stepfather. I’m worried they’re going to get the wrong message from how she was rescued from it. 

I’m afraid kids are going to get the message that if they don’t have family to run to, their only option is to run away period, and that is no improvement on their vulnerability. I’m worried that they are going to think that they are on their own, that no adult has the tools or the willingness to help them.

I have seen this before in YA lit, where kids don’t tell a counselor or adult
and I think this can be a very real life scenario because the fear of the unknown can still be more overwhelming than what is known, even if it is living in pure hell.  For example, you see a very abusive (not sexual) situation in Rotters by Daniel Kraus where the teen doesn’t ask for help from counselors, and he definitely has an opportunity to do so.  I also think that for many teens there are confusing and conflicting feelings because it is home and it is family and it is all they have or know.  I have to go back and read it, it has been a while, but wasn’t Eleanor even gone from the home for a while before the time of the book?

I also think it raises some interesting questions about the dynamics of abuse and grooming.  For Elanor’s mom, it is an abusive situation that she doesn’t know how to get out of – as many woman don’t (they will leave on average I believe 7 times before they leave for good and leaving can actually be the most deadly time of the relationship according to reports) – and there are a lot of lives tied up into this one situation, further complicating the scenario emotionally for Eleanor.

And then, with the grooming, it tends to be a slow and insidious development where you don’t always know exactly what is going on at first, which is the point. And unfortunately, I know that far too many people – adults – are slow to help and intervene because it is hard to believe these things happen and we want to live in denial.  Which is part of the reason why these books are in fact so important, because they help draw back that curtain and make it easier for us to see and, hopefully, do something.

I think in the end, we have to remember that this is one book – one story. And while they do raise interesting questions and can create meaningful dialogue, they aren’t meant to be a guidebook to life.  For some readers that may be the takeaway – she should have gone to an adult for help.  For others it is just understanding that abuse can be many things – it’s not always rape.

But it is also okay that this book didn’t work for you. That’s a legitimate response as well.

Reposted from

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.