Eleanor and Park (by Rainbow Rowell)

25 12 2012

Eleanor and ParkRainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park is set in Omaha in 1986, the year of Top Gun and the Chernobyl disaster. It was also the year of the Dead Kennedys and Black Flag playing their last concert and of The Smiths releasing The Queen is Dead. Eleanor has just moved, steps on the school bus and needs a place to sit. Park has always sort of flown under the radar, well out of reach of the meanest bullies – courtesy of a short fling with Tina, who’s got pull with the big guy on the bus – and hopes, prays the weird fat girl with the bright red curls and the ugly – “like she wants to get noticed” – clothes isn’t going to come and sit next to him and in doing so also draw attention to him. But of course she does. For days the two don’t interact, don’t even acknowledge each other’s existence until one day Park notices Eleanor is reading his comic books together with him. From then on a relationship forms, a relationship based on comic books, mixed tapes and the feeling they get from just being together on the bus.

At first Eleanor is very reluctant to tell Park anything at all about herself. So what Park doesn’t know is that Eleanor’s home situation is completely fucked up.  She doesn’t have two parents who love each other the way Park’s mom and dad love each other and are devoted to one another and kiss each other in public no matter who watches. She doesn’t have a room of her own where she can have time for herself to read Park’s comic books, to listen to his tapes without being disturbed by brothers and sisters. The reason why she wears the clothes she wears is not some kind of forward or twisted sense of fashion, but because she’s too poor to buy anything else. She doesn’t even have the safety and security of a door for the bathroom. What she does have is a mother who has stopped caring about her family and has come to rely on the mercy of her husband Richie for everything in the family’s life. She also has a stepfather (Richie) who hates her and has already thrown her out of the house once and isn’t afraid to do it again. Park on the other hand – though he’s from a loving family – obviously has his own set of problems. He’s half Asian in a community of all white families. And even though he does taekwondo, his father has always thought he’s too feminine: can’t even drive stick, and now he’s started wearing guy-liner…

And despite these unbelievable differences between the two, they connect. They form the sort of bond that only first loves can form. For all the rawness in this book (and especially Eleanor’s situation is extremely rough), the romance between Eleanor and Park is incredibly sweet and tender. This is the way these two kids fall in love. Eleanor and Park is a romance novel, but unlike so many other books of this genre you never get the fake, sugary, even sickly aftertaste of authors trying too hard, plot twists overdone and situations too implausible for their own good.

Eleanor and Park is ultimately a great antidote for the mushy end-of-yearness you’re bound to encounter these days. Park is just a really lovely guy and Eleanor is one lonely tough chick who is actually just hiding her insecurities (not just about her home situation!) behind a façade of toughness and sarcasm.  When the two break out something wonderful happens where together they feel like they’re greater than the sum of their parts.  And Rainbow Rowell has a knack for making it believable and honest rather than cheesy and cheap. This is star-crossed lovers done right.

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29 07 2014
London and books. | Ringo the Cat's Blog

[…] Rowell (Fangirl, Fangirl and Fangirl, and some Eleanor & Park which even had its own “very special […]

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