//by Rainbow Rowell//published 2013//
So Rainbow Rowell is one of those authors that I keep hearing people go on about and keeping thinking that I should read. I actually did read her book Landline back in the early summer, but that was right before the house-buying chaos broke loose, and I just never reviewed it. But I found the writing to be engaging, and decided that it would be worthwhile to check out her other titles, which brings us to Eleanor & Park.
First things first: I actually enjoyed this book. The word that keeps coming to me while I’m thinking about this book is thoughtful. Not quite to “profound,” but definitely a book that gives you something to chew on. There is more going on than just the bare bones of the story.
But here are the bare bones of the story nonetheless: Eleanor is the new girl in high school, and she’s all wrong. Her hair is crazy, her clothes are crazy, she says things that are crazy. In high school, where the mantra is blend in, Eleanor does her own thing. Park is one of those quiet, middle-ground guys. Not popular, but no one messes with him, either. But when he ends up sharing his seat on the bus with Eleanor, both of their lives change.
The book cover says “This is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.” And really, that’s the type of sentence to make me back away from a book as quickly as possible, but I’m glad I looked past it, because it’s truly an incredibly inaccurate statement.
Eleanor & Park is so much more than a teenage love story. I walked away from this book with a strong conviction, a reminder that there is so much more to people than we can see. We see someone around and wonder why they dress or talk or act a certain way, a way that, to us, seems really rather absurd. But the truth of the matter is that we have no idea what has brought that person to where they are now. We have no idea what forces have shaped them, what circumstances face them at home, or what fears haunt them.
For me, that was what this book was about. About two teens who at least got a glimmer of the importance of learning to accept people where they are and for who they are, instead of expecting them to conform to some preconceived idea of what a certain person should look like.
The story itself was engaging. Eleanor and Park are both very likable, despite (because of?) their flaws. I loved the fact that Park comes from a happy family, with parents who are still married and still love each other. So refreshing. Especially since Park recognizes it as something really great, as something that he wants for himself someday –
His parents never talked about how they met, but when Park was younger, he used to try to imagine it.
He loved how much they loved each other. It was the thing he thought about what he woke up scared in the middle of the night. Not that they loved him – they were his parents, they had to love him. That they loved each other. They didn’t have to do that.
None of his friends’ parents were still together, and in every case, that seemed like the number one thing that had gone wrong with his friends’ lives.
But Park’s parents loved each other. They kissed each other on the mouth, no matter who was watching.
And Park’s happy home life felt every bit as realistic as Eleanor’s bleak one. It never felt like Park’s parents were special, or superhumans, to have stayed married all this time. One gets the strong sense of choice. Eleanor’s parents made very bad ones, while Park’s have tried to make good ones, starting with the choice to stay together, and, more, to stay in love.
I also appreciated that the physical aspect of Park and Eleanor’s relationship was not the main focus. They become friends first. This isn’t a story of instalove, and it isn’t a story of passionate necking whenever they get a spare second (although there is a bit of it), it’s a story of friendship.
He tried to remember how this had happened – how she went from someone he’d never met to the only one who mattered.
It’s a story that sounds like it should be a bit cheesy, but somehow isn’t. It’s a story that sounds like it should be overly-dramatic and depressing, but somehow isn’t. It’s a story that sounds like something I would hate, but somehow isn’t.
Eleanor & Park comes away with 4/5 and as a recommended read – a narrative that manages to be thoughtful and engaging, despite being a teenage love story.