I got a recommendation to read Rainbow Rowell‘s Eleanor & Park months ago. Like, back in September. And I heeded this recommendation. But, I didn’t go buy it. Sorry. Buying a paper book is a little pricey for a gal who reads as much as I do. Also, TRUTH BE TOLD when I read a book I like, I buy copies as gifts for others I think will enjoy it. I’ve got too too many books, really. I gave away probably 250 books in my last move…so I went to my library. No copies. I went to my library’s digital download center. It was a month-long wait to get the book–and when it came it was an AUDIOBOOK. No dice, baby.
There is no time for me to sit and listen to a book, and, frankly, I can read it just as fast–likely faster–without a constant stream of noise disturbing my family in the middle of the night–when I often read.
I FINALLY got my hands on a copy after a second (long) library request wait, and I’m glad I did.
Eleanor & Park is one of those special books–the kind I love–because of the quiet love story and tender angst of two characters trying to figure out who they are in the world and in their own skin. I’m also enamored with stories told in first-person, and if I can get the POV of both love interests? OVER THE MOON.
Sixteen y/o Eleanor is a mess. She’s only just returned to her family (a patchwork of mom/stepdad/siblings-full-and-step) after a year of being abandoned at her mother’s longtime friends for A YEAR. That’s right. Her lecherous, alcoholic, abusive stepdad kicked her out a year ago. She’s naturally scared of what that year meant. That she wasn’t worth getting, most likely. And her actual father isn’t much better. He’s called once. To ask her to babysit his girlfriend’s kid. Beyond this she’s tall, and awkward, and poor and red-headed. All things destined to attract the wrong kind of attention in her new school.
On her first school day, Eleanor can’t find a seat on the bus. Not that there aren’t seats; no one will share with her. An Asian boy, Park, takes a miserable slice of pity on her–practically yelling at her to sit down already…with him.
They sit side-by-side. Not touching. Enveloped in awkwardness. They share a couple of classes and Park can’t help noticing Eleanor. How tall she is. How fair her skin. How strange she dresses. How she doesn’t seem to care that the others mercilessly ridicule her. Yet, he can’t bring himself to speak to her. For…weeks. They continue to share a bus seat, but in complete silence, complete isolation. Until he notices she’s reading his comics over his shoulder. A tentative friendship develops over the WATCHMEN and X-MEN, and soon punk rock, when Park shares his music collection.
It is the barest of romances. Holding hands setting off internal fireworks. The long wait for the weekend to end so they will see each other on the bus. Looking away shyly, not coyly. There are no ploys, only core feelings. Love, sadness, anger, exhilaration.
Eleanor can’t have a boyfriend, but she can’t resist the temptation to spend more time with Park outside of school. Park isn’t sure he wants Eleanor as a girlfriend–at first. He mistakes her odd dress habits for style, when it’s simply covering the flaws in her worn-out clothes. He convinces her to say she’s spending time with a girlfriend so she can hang out at his house. Unfortunately, Park’s mother thinks she’s weird, and rude, when Eleanor is just plain overwhelmed by the kind and loving atmosphere of Park’s happy home.
Over the course of the year, Eleanor and Park develop a tender relationship–parental interference notwithstanding. Park’s mom helps make-over Eleanor, and the glam-look damages Park’s tenuous relationship with his father in the process. Eleanor’s siblings nearly (possibly) rat out her boyfriend-status causing the biggest rift Eleanor has had to experience. It is Park who gives his heart away first, in both the figurative and literal sense.
A bittersweet end is what I expected until the very last line…with which I am totally smitten.
I’ve seen the low side of poverty, and drug abusing parents, and 1986, so I bonded with both the setting and the characters. It’s a book adult readers will enjoy as much as YA readers–and it’s Fade-To-Black, innocent/realistic teen coupling, so no smexytimes to steam up the title pages. I’ve got FANGIRL all queued up on my iPad, so expect to hear about it soon…
Be sure to let me know what you thought of it in the comments, and, as always, keep reading my friends!