Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell, is a YA Novel about two kids who absolutely don’t fit in. Eleanor wears all the wrong things and is too snarky for her own good. Park is smaller than he’d like to be, and he’s not proud of his ethnicity. When these two find each other it is a messy road to friendship that eventually teaches them that they need each other to navigate the brutalities of high school, to conquer their own demons, and to find their own happiness.
The only problem I had with the book was the language. The first chapter has an obnoxious amount of unnecessary curse words. They serve no purpose to further the plot or to build characters. It could be argued they show that Park- who doesn’t curse- is different than his teenage counterparts, but even if that’s the case the language is still over the top. It was as if Rainbow Rowell tried to cram as many in as she could to scare away touchy readers and create a barrier between those who would experience the rest of the book and those who wouldn’t. There is vulgar language throughout the rest of the book, but never as in your face for no good reason as that first chapter.
Other than that, this book grabbed hold of my heart and didn’t let go.
I felt like I could not physically put this book down; it connected itself to me. It brought back so many of the feelings that come with adolescence. Hatred for your body. Self depreciating confusion when someone sees something in you that you don't. The courage and the gumption to say “forever” but the lack of any understanding of what that means. Feeling trapped by circumstances that you don't even fully understand. That selfishness that comes from loving someone but only wanting to love them your own way.
It also made me feel things that come with having grown up, like shame for every time I judged someone- the way they looked, the way they acted- without knowing what their life was like behind the scenes. A burning desire to take all the darkness in the world and fix it. The hopelessness that comes from knowing that I could never even come close.
On a more technical level, I love how imperfect Eleanor and Park are. Eleanor doesn't even try to save her siblings; she doesn't think she can. Then there's Park, who is so terribly shallow. The vast majority of times he loves Eleanor with underlying selfish motivations, and even if they were mostly subconscious and innocent, I found myself shaking my head at him. However, this doesn’t make the characters terrible. Actually, it makes Eleanor’s snarkiness more vulnerable, and Park’s sweet love for everything Eleanor is much more tender. Rainbow Rowell didn't try to soften their edges to make them relatable or likable. It makes me wonder why, as writers, we even talk about creating likable characters. Rowell just made them honest and real, and we naturally like them.
As a mom, staying up all night to read is different than staying up all night as a teenager or a college student. A groggy mom is a grumpy mom, and no child deserves a grumpy mom. But, even as 1 am rolled in and I had already promised myself I would put the book down as soon as Eleanor finished her thought, or as soon as I saw the next chapter number, I still couldn't find a good enough place to stop. Of course, when I finally did put the book away and flicked my light off, my toddler girl came crying out of her room and crawling into my bed. The moment she settled onto my pillow, the baby woke up crying for food. I normally would have been so frustrated- at myself for thinking I could get away with staying up so late, and with the kids for their strange way of knowing the most inconvenient time for needing me. But instead, I only felt so grateful for this moment with them. I wanted to remember it forever- nursing a baby who looked completely at peace and comfortable in my arms, and my sweet toddler’s small fingers tickling my back even though she had been the one looking for comfort. It might seem this is completely separate from the book, yet, it is somehow now directly connected to Eleanor and Park.
The raw way Rainbow Rowell shared their story with me opened my heart to be more grateful for these small moments with my children.
If you haven’t read Eleanor and Park yet I highly recommend it. If you have read it already, I would love to hear your thoughts on the book. What are things this book will always remind you of?
Psst. Since it is November, I feel it is fitting to note that Rainbow Rowell’s novel Fangirl was written during NaNoWriMo. Check it out for a real life example of the good that can come from participating!