“Bono met his wife in high school,” Park says.
“So did Jerry Lee Lewis,” Eleanor answers.
“I’m not kidding,” he says.
“You should be,” she says, “we’re sixteen.”
“What about Romeo and Juliet?”
“Shallow, confused, then dead.”
”I love you,” Park says.
“Wherefore art thou,” Eleanor answers.
“I’m not kidding,” he says.
“You should be.”
Set over the course of one school year in 1986, ELEANOR AND PARK is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under.
**Warning!!! Spoiler Alert**
And not because I’m a jerk, or insensitive; trust me I’ve raked my fair share of students over the coals for even hinting at an ending of a novel. I respect the experience of reading a book for the first time, and I’ve dreamed about what it would be like if I could relive the tears and electricity of discovering a favorite character or author. But this time, no this time I just cannot help myself. I literally finished reading Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell just minutes ago. I shut the front cover of my Kindle, sighed the deepest of sighs, swept my laptop into my arms, and dashed upstairs to conceal myself in the quietness of my office to reflect and just write, write, write.
This book, this author, these two teenagers have my heart aching for both them and for the memories of my first love. Not in a way that makes me reconsider my life’s choices, but what it truly felt like to fall hopelessly, consumingly in love with someone who mirrored those sentiments. Rowell so eloquently and precisely creates an opportunity for two unlikely teens to meet, whittle down the award walls of unspoken assumptions just to realize that they had been hiding themselves from the one person who would truly understand them in a world of prerequisites for acceptance and popularity. Set aside by a blaze of red curls and just the right amount of Seven Degrees from Coolness to be looked over when it came time to choose a victim, Eleanor and Park find comfort in one another from the uncomfortableness of adolescence.
Maybe it was because I saw so many of my own insecurities played out in the relationship between Eleanor and Park that I fell in love with this novel. The way that Eleanor kept Park at bay, the way that she continuously doubted herself, doubted that he could genuinely care for her, positive that things would shatter and fall away as easily as the rotation of the sun to form a new day, it all hit close to home. That’s what makes Rowell such an amazing storyteller; she understands and represents the genuine experience of awkward, clodhopping teenage love. But could this not be another story of first love encounters? Of course, but the additional layers make this book something special.
It’s not just the story of “boy meets redheaded girl and they both try not to scare the other away with their homemade blend of individuality and fear.” Throw in their own journeys of self preservation in one home where a drunk and lurking stepfather threatens terror on a daily basis, and another where being a man who does manly things like driving a stick shift and learning taekwando is a requirement. The experimentation of music, clothing, self-expression flows through the pages of this novel as easily as the baseline in a Smiths album.
Like all proper teenage love stories, the ending must be as complicated as finding the right moment to declare your feelings for someone. No longer left with the option of staying under the same roof as her stepfather, Eleanor must ask the one thing of Park that neither ever wanted to see, but feared would inevitably happen to anything good in her life: to let it end and let her go. Would this be forever, or could they believe in their promise that this would not be goodbye forever, but just for today? After a year of writing letters and camping out next to the phone that would never ring, Park finally admits defeat in a yearlong void of silence. After all that time and disappointment, what could Eleanor say, what words could she actually pay forward from the dozens of attempts to reply to Park’s constant reminders that he hadn’t forgotten her? Whatever it was, it could be summed up in three words; three words on a postcard delivered on the last page of the novel, never to be revealed to the reader.
He sat up. He smiled. Something heavy and winged took off from his chest.
Eleanor hadn’t written him a letter, it was a postcard.
Just three words long. (Pg. 324)
And that is the perfect way to end a novel of teenage love and heartbreak, a coming of age story: uncertainty wrapped in hope.
Quotes that Took My Breath Away
Until this moment, she’d kept Park in a place in her head that she thought Richie couldn’t get to. Completely separate from this house and everything that happened here. (It was a pretty awesome place. Like the only part of her head fit for praying.) (pg. 67)
“Did you get in trouble?” “Sort of.” She really didn’t want to talk to Park about Richie. She’d just about scraped all the Richie off the Park place in her head. (pg. 70)
He didn’t look up. He wound the scarf around his fingers until her hand was hanging in the space between them. Then he slid the silk and his fingers into her open palm. And Eleanor disintegrated. (Pg. 71)
But Park’s face was like art. And not weird, ugly art either. Park had the sort of face you painted because you didn’t want history to forget it. (Pg. 132)
“Did I ruin everything?” he asked. “Every-what?” she whispered, as if listening might hurt him, too. “Every-us.” (Pg. 137)
Park spent most nights lying on his bed because it was the only place she’d never been. He lay on his bed and never turned on the stereo. (Pg. 314)