Eleanor and Park, of course
I’m not even going to try to pretend that I hated anything.
Beginning of the school year. 1986. Bus. New girl enters. There aren’t any open seats. She’s dressed oddly, has bright red hair, and is just asking for “it.” Boy finally demands that she just sit down. They keep as much space between them as possible, they don’t talk, they don’t even look at one another. They have honor classes together. They silently, and weirdly, start to bond. They’re both self-conscious. They fall in love.
Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell, was summed up perfectly when John Green reviewed it.
“Eleanor & Park reminded me not just what it’s like to be young and in love with a girl, but also what it’s like to be young and in love with a book.”
Preach, John Green, preach! I’ve never been young and in love with a girl, but I have been young and in love with a boy and more frequently, in love with a book.
I’m a pretty voracious reader, generally speaking, but when I really like a book it becomes a whole new game. Never, and I mean never-ever-ever, have I been so absolutely enthralled with a book in my life. I’ve loved books. Dearly and deeply. I’ve cherished and coveted and praised them from the mountaintops. And honestly, this isn’t even one of those books, but it was still so incredibly fantastic that I tweeted at Rainbow Rowell about it. And she favorited my tweet, which was just icing on the happiness cake.
The hype that surrounded this, and others of Rowell’s books, turned me off. Yes, I’m that reader. If it’s getting all the hype in town and everyone and their mother is swooning over it, I put off reading it as long as humanly possible because—wait for and then immediately dismiss my pretentious ass—it can’t be that good.
Everyone in real life, knows this fact about me and take it into account when recommending books. Honestly, most people in my real life don’t recommend me books. Ever. If it’s an Oprah’s Book Club book, count me out. NYT Bestseller, meh. I didn’t read Harry Potter until Book 7 was released, and guess what…I fucking loved it! My pretentious attitude toward books has changed somewhat, but will likely never be fully abolished. So, I avoided Rainbow Rowell and Eleanor & Park until now…and I love it too.
Is anyone else sensing a trend here?
Regardless, the book had me feeling all of the 16 year-old girl feels in my adult body. I spent most of the book swooning, giggling, and saying “oh.my.god” over and over and over again. On the verge of tears of joy. I mean, seriously, read this shit:
“Then he slid the silk and his fingers into her open palm.
And Eleanor disintegrated.”
She disintegrated. Fucking, disintegrated! How can you not just die?! I can’t even.
Was it predictable? Totally, but that shouldn’t shock anyone when the synopsis blatantly says “…this is the story of two star-crossed misfits—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.” You know the minute they’re both co-existing in that seat on the bus that they’re bound to fall for one another.
Here’s the thing though, Rainbow Rowell shows young love differently than I’ve ever seen it. It’s not a one-sided point of view, it’s not unrequited or any of that jazz. You see Eleanor AND Park both, gradually, fall into like and then into love. Their voices are amazing and their streams of consciousness are so spot on for high school romance. Is she mad at me…I hope she’s not mad at me…I don’t even know why she likes me? He doesn’t like, OMG he totally likes me…how could he like me? It’s a big ball of awkward, self-conscious, intoxicating joy.
She’s so heavy. Heavy, heavy, heavy.
Eleanor’s home life is anything but great, and Park feels like an outsider in his own way. Neither are capable of seeing the good and beautiful in themselves, but they can easily see it in each other. Eleanor is weird, but she’s smart and funny and totally herself. Park loves, and quietly hates, it but he can appreciate and admire it without a doubt. Park is beautiful, smart, strong, and can always make her laugh. Eleanor is a bit jealous of his “perfect” family, but she’s glad that it created him.
There are some hot-n-heavy makeout sessions that aren’t explicit or dirty, because “Nothing was ever dirty. With Park. Nothing could be shameful.” It will remind you of that first time you a let a boy kiss you, let alone touch you anywhere but your hands, and what it was like to be young, in love, and a little bit reckless. If you’ve never been love, this will give you all the reasons to be jealous of those who have.
Eleanor reminded me of 16 year-old me, honestly. When she told Park to stop looking at her all the time—I feel you girl, I feel you. Then, as someone who is not-so-old, still in love and—after a long hiatus—in a relationship with her high school sweetheart, Eleanor & Park made me remember all the firsts we shared together. All the reasons I fell in love with him in the first place, and the things from way back then that are still a large part of us being, well, us. We’re weird, we’re awkward, and he can definitely always make me smile…“Because Park was like the sun, and that was the only way Eleanor could think to explain it.”
And then there is end. Lord, have mercy! I don’t want to give it away, but for me, the possibilities are pretty endless. We may never know, but Park seemed to be satisfied. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is my ultimate, all-time favorite book. This is mot quite as dark or ambiguous, but Eleanor & Park is still a lot like it. Maybe, Rainbow Rowell with be the Stephen Chbosky for a new generation of readers. After reading Eleanor & Park, I’d say she’s definitely up to the task!