|read my review in Goodreads|
I began reading fiction in high school, I remember feeling that each book was an absolute revelation. Whether I was reading Jane Austen or Jodi Picoult or John Green, there had never been anything like it before in my life. The novel's novelty passes, of course. I'm 24 now. I've read so many books.
But I've never seen anything quite like Eleanor & Park. Though I've wrote the review in Goodreads, I still want to blog about it. It's Rainbow Rowell's first novel for young adults which is a beautiful, haunting love story, but I've seen those. It's set in 1986, the year I hadn't born yet but I know there's bullying, sibling rivalry, salvation through music and comics, a monstrous stepparent, and I know, we've seen all this stuff. But you've never seen Eleanor & Park. Its observational precision and richness make for very special reading.
Eleanor is a chubby girl with bright red hair (kids on the bus call her Big Red) who has just returned to her home in Omaha, after being kicked out for a year and forced to stay with acquaintances. Every moment Eleanor is home is terrifying and claustrophobic. She shares a room with a mess of siblings and lives in constant fear of offending her abusive alcoholic stepfather, Richie. She's also poor, she can't afford a toothbrush or batteries for her Walkman.
Park is a half-Korean boy who's passably popular but separated from the larger social order of his school both by his race and by his passion for comic books and punk rock music. On the 1st day of school, Eleanor sits down next to him on the bus. Over time, she begins reading his comics over his shoulder. Then he lends them to her. They bond over music. Eventually, they begin holding hands on the rides to and from school.
The hand-holding, by the way, is intense.
"Holding Eleanor's hand was like holding a butterfly. Or a heartbeat."
Evocative sensual descriptions are everywhere in this novel, but they always feel true to the characters. Eleanor describes Park's trench coat as smelling "like Irish Spring and a little bit like potpourri and like something she couldn't describe any other way than boy."
Park watches Eleanor's mouth so closely that he "could see that her lips had freckles, too."
After Eleanor criticizes him for saying she looks nice, Park thinks: "Eleanor was right: She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something."
Every romance has its obstacle: I have another boyfriend, my parents say we can't, you're a vampire and I,m not, etc... But the obstacle in Eleanor & Park is simply the world. The world can't stomach a relationship between a good-looking Korean and Big Red. The world can't allow Eleanor a boyfriend of any kind, because she's poor and fat and dresses funny. The world can't allow Park a girlfriend because he likes wearing eyeliner and everyone knows that's gay. The world's the obstacle, as it always is when you're 16 and truly in love. Park's parents serve as evidence that sometimes love conquers the world, and Eleanor's family is a reminder that sometimes it doesn't. As for Eleanor and Park.....well, I won't spoil it.
Early in the novel, Park’s English teacher asks him why Romeo and Juliet has survived 400 years. With Eleanor looking on, Park says: "Because people want to remember what it’s like to be young? And in love?" After a moment, he adds, "Is that right?"