Synopsis of Eleanor and Park from Goodreads:
One extraordinary love.
Eleanor… Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough…Eleanor.
Park… He knows she’ll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punch line. There’s a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises…Park.
Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.
Eleanor and Park – Rainbow Rowell: www.rainbowrowell.com
The first line sets the tone for the novel, “XTC was no good for drowning out the morons on the back of the bus.” Eleanor and Park takes us back to Omaha, August 1986, on a nostalgic trip for those of us who remember the 1980’s, myself included! The novel is written in both Eleanor and Park’s, point of view, this works well, and gives the novel a deep insight into both male and female teenagers.
There is only one seat available on the school bus and of course this is next to Park, a Korean kid, with a comic obsession, who listens to music to shut out the banter of the popular kids on the bus. To begin with Park doesn’t know what to make of Eleanor, this new kid who ends up sitting next to him on the last available seat. But in time he warms to her, encouraging her to read his comics, and listen to music. Rainbow Rowell uses the confined space of the seats on the bus to good effect, the two teenagers are so close they are almost touching, the reader can’t wait for them to get closer!
Eleanor and Park is at its most successful at depicting first love. The little almost imperceptible actions that mean so much, such as Park turning the page for Eleanor as he reads his comic. The words unspoken, the gestures, looking at each others shoes, and admiring them. Even sensory details such as Park reflecting that when Eleanor returned his comics to him they smelt like roses. Above all else, it’s the tenderness of first love, the hand holding, “Holding Eleanor’s hand was like holding a butterfly. Or a heartbeat.” Of course this progresses to their first kiss, and gentle caresses, all these romantic progressions, amount to a heart warming description of first love.
The book also handles a lot of difficult issues, from abusive relationships to bullying.
Eleanor is bullied because of her size, and dress sense, and because she’s different. Park is culturally different from the other kids, he’s Korean, and this makes him vulnerable too. I related a lot to this as I have experienced problems like this myself when I was growing up, (my mother is Malaysian). Park just about gets by without too much attention by trying to be unobserved, whereas Eleanor draws attention to herself with her weird dress sense. It is as if she is unable to help herself. She is big, white skinned, with shocking red hair, but rather than draw attention away from her hair, or her dress sense she does the opposite, like she is challenging them. No wonder they call her big red. There are even instances when Park wonders what he sees in big Red, at one point he compares her mouth to the Jokers, not exactly very attractive sounding, yet in time he finds her so appealing that he can’t bear to be without her. I really admire this aspect of the story, these two less than popular teenagers, fit together, and nothing else matters. Park accepts that Eleanor is different but rather than putting him off, he finds this attracts him to her. Eleanor perpetuates this by telling him off for calling her “nice,” Park thinks: “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.” This is one of my favourite quotes from the book. It sums up Eleanor so well in just a few words. Eleanor is happy in her own skin, and this is an appealing quality that readers will admire.
Park’s home life is stable and happy compared to Eleanor’s. Eleanor feels it’s necessary to hide aspects of her sad, home life from Park. He has no idea that she’s so poor. She doesn’t even have a toothbrush, or a phone. But more than that she has to contend with her unpleasant step dad Richie, and his nasty behaviour on a daily basis. Her mother comes across as this weak individual unable to stand up to Richie, and the children and herself suffer in this abusive relationship. Eleanor pretends not to notice bruises on her mum’s wrists. It is easier to turn a blind eye than to admit what’s really going on.
Though Rainbow Rowell did a great job in creating this sad backdrop of an abusive home life, I do think that the developing love story between Eleanor and Park is more powerful, emotive and effective, than the other aspects of the novel, which could have been developed more. Though this would have altered the tone of the novel making it a more serious read, and Rainbow Rowell works best on a light-hearted level.
Photos courtesy of free domain photos.
Have you read Eleanor and Park? Do comment I’d love to hear from you.
Bye for now,
Marje @ Kyrosmagica xx