by Rainbow Rowell
Eleanor is the new girl in town, and with her chaotic family life, her mismatched clothes and unruly red hair, she couldn’t stick out more if she tried.
Park is the boy at the back of the bus. Black T-shirts, headphones, head in a book – he thinks he’s made himself invisible. But not to Eleanor… never to Eleanor.
Slowly, steadily, through late-night conversations and an ever-growing stack of mix tapes, Eleanor and Park fall for each other. They fall in love the way you do the first time, when you’re young, and you feel as if you have nothing and everything to lose.
Some SPOILERS below!
I love, love this book! It is fabulous, heart-warming and heartbreaking at the same time, and it features some amazing characters. It is set in the 80’s, so be prepared for some slight differences in the lifestyle of these teenagers, but they could easily be placed in our current times minus few technical gadgets and slang words. It is their relationship and slow development into adults that gets you from page one. I did not expect that to happen and the magic made me hunger for more.
Eleanor is a girl living in poverty, with a highly chaotic family life that features a dark character of a stepfather. He’s the bane of their existence and I was constantly in fear that something would snap. Whether it would be this stepfather or Eleanor was the question. The mother knows what is happening but is basically helpless – oh she does small things to even the score and squirrel away money but it isn’t enough by far. The family lives in an abusive atmosphere despite her struggle to shield the kids from how bad it is; they are slightly neglected no matter how much slack you give her. Mom has to placate the ‘bread winner’ day after day, so care for kids often falls to Eleanor, the eldest of the bunch. She is shy, defensive, and oh so self-conscious about her hair and body. I loved her instantly.
Park is a darling and a guy you just have to like by the time he befriends Eleanor. He frustrated me at first with his attitude towards the newcomer, but since he comes from a very loving family, he’s a decent guy (at least when he’s not with his bullying friends). He grows up and finds his own place – thumbs up for that. I really liked his mum despite her highly conventional attitudes towards girl fashion (skirts, make-up, daily hair styling). She is a perceptive woman who had a bad start in life from what little we glimpse or deduce (she grew up in a large family in Korea before she met her husband and followed him to America). She understands Eleanor better than anyone, so she supports Park in his befriending the shy redhead and then forming a romantic relationship with her.
Let me tell you how I fangirled about this development. I was grinning like mad, desperately keeping back squeals of delight. (It was fairly late when I was reading this book in bed – I just couldn’t put it down, it is highly addictive.) 😀 When I’m making incoherent noises you bet the reading is amazing. Not everyone will agree on this, but Eleanor & Park is a wonderful book that I’ll reach for again when in need of some good feels. It just hits me right in the heart.
Park is the person Eleanor needs to hold on in her life when events at home take on darker and darker tones. He’s the one happy element, the person where she can relax and be herself. It is an escape and a place where she can grow up herself, where she can think and just be. It makes a huge difference – just how huge you get by the end of the book. They communicate through music cassettes, sharing their favourite songs and lyrics, thereby revealing more about themselves and their experiences. I loved this so much. 😀
Eleanor gives back as much as she gets from Park – she enriches his life, becomes a person who shares his interests, music, cares. She doesn’t become completely dependent on Park – she’s seen what that looks like with her mom. She’s her own person, but with Park she is a better person. And isn’t that the definition of great love? Park too starts to grow once he meets her, he breaks out of the mould his friends and family put him in.
That is why I love this book, and the slowly growing romance that tentatively, day by day emerges from an amazing friendship. It was a very realistic, slow burn transformation of a tentative bond into a life-changing relationship. Just wonderful. 😀
Perhaps this happy element of the book made me even more disappointed that the school did not know about the bullying or the home life of their students. This is a frequent complaint of mine – then again, I’m more likely to see and be sensitive about it when I have experience of this kind myself. Future bullies should beware; I’m likely to dish out punishment that will not be proportionate to the offence/crime. Try and convince me otherwise, if you dare. 😀 Kids can be nasty if adults do nothing to check them.
Oh, almost forgot – I found the English teacher absolutely fascinating. I’d have loved to have him for my classes, since my literature class turned into a snooze fest despite my love of the written word. But perhaps he would be too much to handle at that age as well. *shrugs*