I was told by an annoying person to read Eleanor & Park a few months back. This was way way back in the summer when I had just signed up for my Young Adult Literature class. I was dreading it (and reading YA Lit) because I knew the average near the end of the semester (where we are right now) was about six books a week. So as you do with annoying people, you ignore the advice. What a mistake. I read the book about two months ago now and since then I’ve also read Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell‘s other book, and I’ve fallen in love.
There are those that attempt to write realistic teen romance. And then there is Rainbow Rowell (the link above is to her beautiful blog which is updated on the reg) who simply makes everyone else’s attempts look like fingerprinting next to the Sistine Chapel.
Eleanor is not your typical manic pixie girl heroine. In fact, she doesn’t fancy herself a hero at all. Her mother and abusive stepdad are finally letting her move back in with them after they kicked her out. So all Eleanor wants to do is blend in. She wants to disappear. She gets on the bus and sits next to a skinny Asian boy.
Park sees Eleanor get on the bus. She’s dressed like a crazy person–her bright red, curly hair is accentuated by her bigger-than-average size, bright clothing, copious accessories and “don’t fuck with me” attitude. Nobody wants her to sit next to them. It’s half-way through the semester and everyone has already claimed their regular seat. But when people start to laugh, park moves his backpack–the universal non-verbal signal for “if you must.”
Fast forward to a few weeks later. Park reads his comics on the bus every day and has started to notice that Eleanor reads over his shoulder. He starts to bring the early Watchmen comics for her to read on her own. How can he know that this is the only kindness she’s been shown in weeks?
This book is pretty heavy, guys. When I say her stepfather is abusive, what I mean to say is that Eleanor is afraid to shower when he’s around because she’s worried he’ll harass her for her size–or worse–try to touch her. She sometimes doesn’t have the means to wash her clothes. And when she finally does see her biological father (yes, that’s right, he’s not dead), she ends up stealing a toothbrush from his house because she can’t afford one.
This was one of those books where 23-year-old Margaux is saying “WHERE THE HELL ARE THE RESPONSIBLE ADULTS?! THE PARENTS?!” I just want to give Eleanor a hug. I also want to give park a fist-bump because he basically found his soul-mate at 16. And I’m not ruining anything when I say that, don’t worry.
Throwback, teen romance, family issues, bullying
Compelling, densely written, relentless, bittersweet, bleak, poignant, moving, sympathetic protagonists, dramatic characters, multiple points of view, authentic, character-centered, accurate, detailed setting, candid.
“You can be Han Solo,” he said, kissing her throat. “And I’ll be Boba Fett. I’ll cross the sky for you.”
“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.”