This past year I read 14 books after three years of reading nothing but cases, statutes and legislation for law school. After I finished studying for the bar exam, I thought for sure that my love of reading had died (along with a tiny part of my soul), but I read some amazing books throughout 2014 that re-ignited my love for reading and transported me to different worlds and lives. I laughed out loud, cried, and sighed through some of them while others, like the book I’m about to review for you here, left me completely speechless and wanting more.
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell took me by surprise. I expected too much immaturity and cheesiness to hold my interest for 300 pages, but I was dead wrong. Instead, it captivated me, reminded me why I should be thankful for the life that I have, and evoked my own sweet memories of budding young love.
The book stars two completely different characters, a half-Asian, half-Caucasian sixteen year-old boy, Park, who loves Punk rock music, and black eyeliner; and a slightly overweight red-head with freckles, Eleanor, who does not have the money to afford nice clothes. Park and Eleanor meet on the school bus to school one morning after Eleanor moves to the neighborhood. She moves to the neighborhood after her step-father allows her to return home after kicking her out for a year. Eleanor lives in a severely emotionally abusive home with a step-father that terrifies her and her younger siblings. Eleanor’s mother lives is absolute fear as well, to the point where she feels defenseless and helpless. At many points of the book Eleanor’s mother tries to protect her, but her attempts are in vain and cannot stop the untouchable aspect of emotional abuse.
Park and Eleanor start to connect after he allows her to sit next to him on the bus after the other kids make it clear that she is not welcome to sit next to anyone else. Eleanor starts to read Park’s comics over his shoulder on the bus, and slowly, Park notices what she is doing. Park begins to talk to Eleanor in short sentences and gives her some comic books to take home and read. Their love for one another is slow to ignite at first, but once the wind fans the blaze, it completely overtakes both of them in an intense, roaring fire. Their love is somewhat stifled many times throughout the book because Eleanor must essentially sneak and lie to see Park – their time alone is so, so special to them. Rainbow’s flowery and romantic word choices are absolutely beautiful, but they are still reminiscent of high school with a childish flair to it all. The word choice was perfect.
Park and Eleanor’s home lives are completely different – Park’s home life is full of love, but his father tends to want him to be something he is not, and his mother is too focused on how someone looks on the outside that she is blind to any beauty that may lay within. Eleanor’s home life is devastated, and it brought me to tears and made me so angry throughout the entire book. On top of her awful home life, Eleanor is bullied horribly at school – after gym class one day a group of girls lead by a girl who especially hates Eleanor (for no reason at all, of course) steals all of Eleanor’s clothes from her locker and places them all in the toilet. My heart broke for her. I wanted to reach in and be her friend. Park tries to protect her, but he hesitates because he does still remotely care about his level of “coolness” at school, until one day he completely loses his cool after a particularly bad episode of bullying where he breaks the nose of another boy.
As their love strengthens, Eleanor and Park experiment with intimacy amid raging teenage hormones but always stopping short of going too far. Strangely, as much as I can tell Eleanor loves Park, she never says “I love you” back. I connected this with Eleanor’s sad and twisted childhood with her father and step-father – she has lived through abandonment and abuse, plain and simple. Park showed her what love really was. It was so touching. I don’t want to give away the ending, but the last few chapters left me in tears.
Eleanor and Park will be one of those books that I always hold dear. It reminds me of my own high school loves, one of which has grown and survived nearly eleven years today. I remember the flutter of my heart when I’d receive a phone call from the boy I had a crush on; I remember that first kiss with him; I remember waiting in breathless anticipation for him to log onto AIM so we could continue talking after school let out for the day; and I remember all the moments in between. These memories that I have of my husband are so very special to me. Eleanor and Park brought all of them back to me in one huge rush. It was such a spectacular read!