I just meant that… I want to be the last person who ever kisses you too….That sounds bad, like a death threat or something. What I’m trying to say is, you’re it. This is it for me.
The story of Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell has all the elements of a typical YA realistic novel. An awkward teen, an alcoholic stepparent, bullying, and more. Nothing new, right?
Wrong. So wrong. So incredibly wrong that Eleanor would just roll her eyes and huff “God” right in your face.
Eleanor is an over-sized girl with extra-frizzy red hair and an eccentric wardrobe, all commingled to create a bully’s dream victim. Eleanor is harassed by the popular kids, by her step-father, and – worst of all – by herself. She questions how Park could like her, even stand her. She is continually shocked that, once again, a day passes without him being disgusted by her presence in his life. Eleanor is a sad, comfortless teen who holds the world at arms length, and my heart broke for her so often throughout the novel.
Thank God she couldn’t make her mouth work right now, because if she could, there’d be no end to the melodramatic garbage she’d say to him. She was pretty sure she’d thank him for saving her life….Which made her feel like the dumbest, weakest girl. If you couldn’t save your own life, was it even worth saving?
Park’s mother is Korean, and moved to America after his Soldier father swept her off her feet. Park is the only Asian kid in Omaha, not unpopular, well-liked, but a bit of a recluse choosing music and comic books over parties. His openness with Eleanor perfectly matched her restraint, making for many awkward moments.
Dumb. He should have gotten the pen. Jewelry was so public…and personal, which was why he’d bought it. He couldn’t buy Eleanor a pen. Or a bookmark. He didn’t have bookmarklike feelings for her.
Rainbow did such a thorough job of describing Eleanor, but I still don’t have a complete picture in my head of her face. I cannot decide if that is Rainbow’s fault or my own. I say my own because, well, the self-hatred that Eleanor has about her body sounds a lot like the self-hate I had for my own for the longest time. Still do occasionally. So maybe instead of seeing Eleanor’s face, I saw my own. Maybe that’s why I had the reaction I did upon finishing the novel.*
Luckily there are artists out there who cannot let another day go by without drawing their interpretation of their beloved characters. Here is one that Rainbow tweeted, from an artist named Simini Blocker:
Eleanor & Park is a heartbreaking yet laugh-out-loud hilarious novel. Seriously…I haven’t had that many post-its in a book since college. The book is worth reading for many reasons, and Rainbow’s impeccable capturing of the sensitive, poetic, and exhilarating moments of love.
Everyone. Everyone should read this book. Adults should read it to remember the inner struggle of being a teenager. Teens should read it to develop compassion for others – because a person’s exterior gives no clues as to what their personal life holds.
And you. You should read this book. It is real life. It is what love should look like, not the dramatic parts, but the giving, hopeful, and supportive parts.
This reminds me of The Big Crunch by Pete Hautman for its realistic look at young love, and Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler (ill. by Maira Kalman).
*I cried those silent, knowing tears of someone who remembers. Someone who is thankful it’s not her, but who empathizes with the person and people that it is a reality for.