“Eleanor was right. She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.”
Title: Eleanor & Park
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Publication: February 26th 2013 by St. Martin’s Press
Summary from Goodreads:
Eleanor… Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough…Eleanor.
Park… He knows she’ll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punch line. There’s a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises…Park.
Set over the course of one school year, 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.
Eleanor & Park is a work of art by Park’s own definition. Art isn’t supposed to be pretty, it’s supposed to make you feel something – and that is exactly what this book does. It makes you feel. Not every feeling is good, not every feeling is bad. Eleanor & Park makes you feel things deep down in your chest and you can’t tell whether or not you want to claw those feelings out or relish in their power.
“Holding Eleanor’s hand was like holding a butterfly. Or a heartbeat. Like holding something complete, and completely alive.”
Eleanor isn’t a normal girl. She dresses funny, wears weird things in her hair, and is a little too large to be considered healthy. Park is a music loving, comic loving, romantic at heart who is always trying to impress his father and keep his nose out of other people’s business. Then they meet, and their worlds implode. Eleanor is bullied on the bus; Park doesn’t stop them – not at first. He simply scoots over and allows her to sit. They continue like this. They don’t talk, they don’t interact beyond Eleanor reading comic books over Park’s shoulder and Park reading just a bit slower so she can enjoy them, too. Their relationship progresses slowly, beautifully – building and building until it hits you right in the gut. Friendship and belonging turns into love and it is a love so seemingly innocent and powerful and complete.
“I just can’t believe that life would give us to each other,’ he said, ‘and then take it back.’
‘I can,’ she said. ‘Life’s a bastard.”
The tension in this novel is a double edged sword. On the one hand, there is internal conflict in Eleanor and her not thinking she is good enough for Park, among other things. We see Eleanor struggle with bullies at school, struggle with her own body image, and fight tooth and nail just to be invisible when she is at home. She also battles her feelings for Park, terrified that he will leave her for someone better. She is desperate for the love and acceptance she doesn’t get at home. On the other hand, there is the external conflict between Eleanor, her step-father Richie, and her mother. It’s a hard hitting, harrowing, and borderline uncomfortable situation to read about – much less to live in. Rowell handles it with such finesse that, after the revelation and climax at the end, it forces you to reexamine the details you knew and look at them in a whole new light. I had to put the book down, walk away, and cry before I could pick it back up. It was powerful, terrifying, and heartbreaking. Eleanor’s story alone demands to be read, but the book is so much more, too. It’s impossible to describe.
“He made her feel like more than the sum of her parts.”
In Eleanor & Park being a teenager is about discovery, friendship, and sacrifice. It’s about acceptance and love and believing in yourself. There are many different elements to this book, and Eleanor and Park’s individual and intertwined experiences paint a brilliant masterpiece for the subtler details. Eleanor & Park is a story of fighting back against those who put you down for being something other than their ideas of normal. It is a book I will cherish and never stop thinking about. Eleanor & Park is powerful and poignant, simple as that.
“Or maybe, he thought now, he just didn’t recognize all those other girls. The way a computer drive will spit out a disk if it doesn’t recognize the formatting.
When he touched Eleanor’s hand, he recognized her. He knew.”