Eleanor is the new girl in school. She describes herself as ‘chubby and plain’ with bright red hair and kids on the bus call her ‘Big Red’.
After her mother’s abusive husband kicked Eleanor out, she moved in with some family friends. Now, a year later, she’s back living with her mother, step-father, and sibling in a new town. Every moment Eleanor is home is terrifying and claustrophobic — she shares a room with a mess of siblings in a rather cramped house, and lives in constant fear of offending her abusive alcoholic stepfather, Richie. She’s also poor and cannot afford even a toothbrush or batteries for her Walkman.
It’s the first day of school, she gets on the bus and when every kid pulls a ‘you-can’t-sit-here’; the only seat available is the one next to Park.
Described as ‘the stupid Asian kid’ by Eleanor, Park has a relatively normal family. The son of a Vietnam war veteran and Korean native, Park is a music junkie and a boss in taekwondo,who’s passably popular but separated from the larger social order of his school both by his race and by his passion for comic books and good music. Most of the time, he keeps to himself.
Over time, Eleanor begins reading his comics over his shoulder. Then he lends them to her. They bond over music. Eventually, they begin holding hands on the rides to and from school. He doesn’t take him long to realize that fighting his feelings for Eleanor is a losing battle.
“I don’t like you, Park,” she said, sounding for a second like she actually meant it. “I…” – her voice nearly disappeared – “think I live for you.”
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.
Reading ‘Eleanor and Park’ made me feel all the emotions. I absolutely love this book! I love its warmth, and vibrancy, its heartache and its humour, the ugliness and beauty, the crying and laughter, and especially the sarcasm. I also thought the darker element of this novel was mostly handled well. Eleanor’s home life is told gradually in a frightening way that is suitable for such situations.
As for the characters, I did like the well-rounded feel of both characters. Rowell gave them many different levels, making them experience a range of emotions in a realistic way. I loved Eleanor and Park – both as a couple and separately.
I have a pretty fortunate upbringing and it was obviously very different from Eleanor’s, Yet, somehow, Rowell made me feel what it would be like to be Eleanor. I identified with her so closely. And that’s maybe, partially because of the universality of Eleanor as a character – she’s uncomfortable in her own skin, she can’t understand why someone she likes as much as Park would like her, she doesn’t feel deserving of love. As for Park, I love that he took that chance of falling in love with the not-so-popular girl. He didn’t allow the opinion of others to alter his relationship with her. He was there to protect her when her classmates pulled pranks on her, and moved away from the company of friends that would make fun of Eleanor.Both of the characters come across as specific individuals that are yet completely relatable to absolutely anyone who is young and is falling in love for the first time.
Their love story was slow-building, which is probably my favourite kind of love story – their adoration of each other unfolds so slowly, so gradually that we can’t help but feel like this is far more than infatuation. What stands about Rainbow Rowell for me is that she remembers what it’s like to be a teen and has captured it so beautifully in this book.
I was worried about the ending because that was the one slightly negative thing I kept hearing about the book, but the ending really worked for me. In a way, they had just each other to run to. Eleanor had Park. Park had Eleanor. Park was the ray of hope that stood out in Eleanor’s life. And in turn, Eleanor made Park so happy and sure of what he wanted. One of the tensions underlying the book is whether or not first love is ever real love, final love and the one that lasts forever. ‘Eleanor and Park’ doesn’t attempt to answer that question definitely, but you believe they could make it. Their love is both raw and vivid in the way first love is and yet mature solid, too. This is the single most charming, convincing, three dimensional YA Romance. If you’re looking for a relatively light read that’s insanely cute then this is for you!
Naomi Ann Abraham
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