Nov 13, 12
It’s 1986. The year of Dollywood, Top Gun and the birth of yours truly. Eleanor is the new girl at school. From her bright red unruly hair to the fact that she wears men’s shirts and unstylish pants, not to mention not conforming to a stereotypical body shape, she is the metaphorical red flag waved in front of a crowd of bulls. If only that was the worst of the chicks problems. Her step father is abusive and her large family are deep in the depths of poverty and despair.
Park is a shining light of brightness; unlike Eleanor he fits in, not just in school but in his family. He is loved by his parents, who in turn love each other, having fallen in love when his father was in Korea during the war. Hell yes for diversity – Park is half Korean and it was refreshing to read (he wasn't a token diverse character, a trope that annoys me a LOT, kind of like the gay best friend.) I love the juxtaposition between Park and Eleanor's family as it drove home the differences between the two and how no matter what, building a bridge to each other to connect is easy when you want something hard enough.
It starts with a bus ride and the simple act of offering of a spare seat (begrudgingly, but even so) and so it goes. Then comes the slow turned comic book pages and furtive glances and mixed tapes. The secrets and those soft quiet moments that carry all the weight. And finding friendship, The Beatles and first love.
Eleanor and Park as title is perfect, because this book is about them, both together and separate. Told from both points of view, sometimes whole chapters, other times just one sentence, we get to work out the puzzle that is them. And watching them develop as characters over the course of the novel was mesmorising. Rowell has a special way of enveloping you in her story so completely that you *feel* everything along with the characters. That all-consuming intense feeling of first love and how you feel that nothing could ever possibly feel like this again.
Rowell is not afraid to bring out the big guns with her Serious Issues. Nothing is sugar coated or polished over; it is as raw as reality and sometimes it will hurt your heart to read. But that’s what makes it so perfect; life is hard and even more so when you have obstacles to overcome that seem too tall to ever contemplate getting over. It’s these vulnerabilities and complications that make people who they are. It’s what makes Eleanor who she is and it’s what makes Park become who he wants to be.
It’s going to be hard let these two go, so I’m not going to, I’m going to keep them with me for a while. The perfect example of how we are the sum of our parts; how it’s the little things about us that make us who we are and that we should love every part of ourselves or find someone who will love those parts of us we haven’t yet accepted until we do. A Spellbinding novel.
Eleanor and Park, this is for you - There is a light and it never goes out.