What if instead of the smart and practical Elizabeth Wakefield…
Warning: Unmitigated, unapologetic gushing ahead.
I loved every single sentence in every single paragraph on every single page of Rainbow Rowell’s young adult novel Eleanor & Park. I loved it with the irrational and all-consuming love of a sixteen-year-old girl, which is apropos because Eleanor and Park are a couple of sixteen-year-old weirdos from the wrong side of the Omaha tracks. Park’s a mixed-race kid whose mom is Korean and whose dad is from Omaha. He feels his otherness acutely and shows it outwardly in punk rock t-shirts, floppy bangs, and an ever-present Walkman coupled with a fistful of comicbooks.
Eleanor is the big, redheaded new girl who lives in a house filled with poverty, siblings, domestic violence, and alcoholism. Eleanor’s got it rough and the skinny bitches on the bus who make fun of her flaming hair and who pick on her for being the fatgirl in gym really are the least of her concerns.
But on one fateful day in the fall of 1986, Eleanor boards Park’s bus and finding no place else to sit, flops down next to him. What follows is one of the sweetest and most painful teen romances since, well, The Fault in Our Stars. I know that’s a bold claim but I believe Eleanor & Park could give Hazel & Gus a run for their money when it comes to star-crossed teen romance.
This book had everything I love in books: humor (Eleanor is funny as hell), music (the two bond over The Smiths & The Beatles), flawed, realistic characters who feel so real it’s like you know them. Hell, if Eleanor had been a six-foot-three peroxide blonde I could have been her.
The two struggle through their sophomore years like every high school kid, trying to figure out love and who you are and how you cope with the shittiness in your life. Eleanor really has the struggle here because she’s got the bullying at school and at home in the form of her mother’s abusive new husband, Richie, who creeps her out. She has so much shame about being poor and Richie’s drinking that it’s a wonder she can barely function. She keeps it bottled up and you know there is only a matter of time before it explodes all over her life, and the question is will Park be there? Will he understand?
And another thing I love about this book? Is that even though both Eleanor & Park are the weirdos they don’t suffer from Holden Caufieldization. They aren’t the friendless weirdos who are friendless and weird merely because they like books and music like you so often see in Young Adult novels. They both have actual friends, and their weirdness is kind forced upon them — Eleanor because of her size and her falling apart thrift shop clothes, Park because he’s biracial and embraces the punk rock aesthetic.
And another thing I love about this book? The tender steps toward sex they take. The fact that Eleanor wants Park as much as he wants her. That he wants her even though she doesn’t fall into the strict standards of beauty fed to us by the media. I love that they constantly ask each other for consent before they go around those fabled bases. Both of them.
And another thing I love about this book? As I rushed to the stories climax I had to put the book aside and cry for a little bit less I ruin the ending with all my smeary tears and inability to breathe.
And another thing I love about this book? Just everything all the time all about all of it. It’s been awhile since I fell this hard and fast for a book (well, November when I read Tell the Wolves I’m Home seems like awhile especially because I am just coming out of a bad, bad slump of hating all the shitty books I was reading).
And the thing I love most about this book? Is that talking about it or typing about it makes my heart race like that first time Cam Anderson turned around in 7th grade English/Social Studies and leveled me with his brown eye and said “You like to read, right?”