“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.” – Park, page 168.
Let me start off by mentioning that I read this book from start to finish, including the author’s notes at the back, in just under 3 hours. Personally, I believe this is the ideal Sunday afternoon: with the sky darkening and the clouds thickening, I clasped ‘Eleanor & Park’ in my sweaty palms – completely induced of course by Rainbow Rowell.
This was the first book I had ever read by this author, although I could have sworn otherwise, and I was completely enthralled by it. I immediately fell in love with both these characters: Eleanor, a strange, red-headed girl clad in weird and colourful clothes, preferring people stare at what she’s wearing than at her. And Park, a boy who has struggled with his biracial identity his whole life, believing his father loves him out of obligation rather than want.
An innocent and unlikely friendship blossoms between the two with Park uttering his famous first words to Eleanor on the school bus: “‘So,’ he said, before he knew what to say next, ‘you like the Smiths?’”
Rainbow Rowell perfectly highlights what is often wrong with so many Young Adult novels these days: two teenagers meet, fall in love, encounter some sort of obstacle, overcome it and live happily ever after. Whilst discussing Romeo & Juliet in their English class, Eleanor says: “They think they want each other, [but] they don’t even know each other.” Eleanor and Park don’t get to know one another because they’re in love; they fall in love because they know each other.
Their school bus becomes a safe-haven of secret hand-holding and whispers about the sexist X-Men; their innocence at its peak. Eleanor’s dysfunctional situation at home is soon revealed, and I found myself in constant fear of when these children would be ripped from the serenity only the other could provide. (See sweaty palms mentioned above).
“‘How could you want me like I want you?’” – Eleanor, page 114.
Reading books like Eleanor & Park is a constant reminder of just how lucky some of us are. Living in one room with her four siblings, having no toothbrush and thinking things like newspapers, magazines, Coke and grapefruit juice are luxuries; “things you tossed into the cart without thinking about it just because they sounded good”; reading sentences like that make you feel guilty, as you should, for refusing to eat the food on your plate at dinner, simply because it wasn’t your favourite.
“‘In your life, things happen for a reason. People make sense. But that’s not my life. Nobody in my life makes sense.’” – Eleanor, page 111.
Without giving too much away, ‘Eleanor & Park’ is easily one of my favourite novels of all time, and I highly suggest you give it a read as these two young, beautiful souls cross paths, falling in love all at once.
The ending to the novel was bittersweet. You’re left feeling hopeful yet heartbroken. Rowell finishes the novel stating: “[Eleanor and Park] are 17 years old. I don’t believe that 17-year-olds get happy endings. They get beginnings.”