I love a good book.
Ever since I was in preschool (and according to my mom, ever since I was three), I was that girl who could be found in the corner curled up with a good book. I grew up on The Berenstein Bears, and in my adolescent years, I stockpiled books from the Baby Sitters Club and Sweet Valley High series. I moved on to Nicholas Sparks and Lurlene McDaniel as I got a little older and eventually fell in love with the classics. I was fond of Miss Havisham when my high school English class read Great Expectations, and now as an adult I revisit some of my favorite characters from classics like The Giver and The Great Gatsby. I’ve fallen in love with Aslan and had my heart broken and mended by Jane Austen.
I read everything I can get my hands on. Whether it’s the latest greatest dystopian novel (I loved all of the Hunger Games books) or tomorrow’s classics (thank you, JK Rowling), I just can’t get enough of a good book, and I am always on the lookout for a new character who will make me say, “I totally get it! That happened to me just yesterday!”
After reading a series of nonfiction books, I was on the lookout for a good love story. I ran into a Buzzfeed list (which I always think is good for a laugh but not necessarily meant to be taken seriously) titled 53 Books You Won’t be Able to Put Down. Soon after I clicked on the link, I Ctrl+F’d and typed in “love” and came across a book by a young author, Rainbow Rowell titled “Eleanor and Park.” The author’s name alone was enough for me to make a trek to my trusty library and search for what I had hoped to be Romeo and Juliet of the 2000s. (Scratch that…I don’t really believe that Romeo and Juliet is the love story everyone would like for it to be. But that’s for another blog.)
I sighed as I found out that it was classified as “Young Adult fiction,” knowing that it would be hit or miss. I checked it out hoping that the love would be more Peeta and Katniss than those two vampire teens who I can’t even remember because I never read THAT trilogy. (nor do I plan to)
When I settled down with my tea and biscuits (who am I kidding? I really tore open a bag
of cheddar and sour cream potato chips) to read Eleanor and Park, I immediately fell in love with the style of writing. Rainbow Rowell alternates between the two characters who share the role as narrator just as seamlessly as they share their friendship which blossoms into a romance. The two heroes share a love of comic books and music, and I have no doubt that if “hipster” were a term of the 80s, they would have fallen into that category. While I fell in love with both members of this duo, I was especially fond of Eleanor. I pictured us being friends in high school, bonding over our frizzy hair and making sarcastic remarks behind the other kids’ backs who thought they were so cool. We would whisper in camaraderie about the tags hanging out of the popular kids’ shirts while we both knew better than to ask about each others’ home lives. I would have completed the fourth corner of the friendship that was Eleanor, DeNice and Beebi.
But despite finding legitimate girlfriends to have her back, I would know that there was a piece of Eleanor that was missing and could only be filled by a half Korean, half white boy with an Avon lady for a mom. I would know that he was right for her, that he was the one who would eventually be welcomed into her home life, and I would know that no matter what, their love would last because even though Eleanor wore strange clothing and covered up secrets, and even though Park didn’t always understand, he still loved her.
There were times when I couldn’t tell who was speaking, and I have to believe that was intentional. These teens were meant to be together, and I have to believe that in some fictitious world, they are together with a nice house, kids and at least one pet (an iguana maybe…Eleanor has the unassuming charm that would convince Park to diverge from the typical cat and dog route).
There were a few moments where I thought that this book would go the way of 500 Days of Summer, which the narrator makes certain is NOT a love story, but when I read the last page, I knew that it would not. Eleanor and Park IS a love story. It’s not a classic boy meets girl book. It’s not a conventional damsel in distress story either. Rather, Eleanor and Park creates a unique tale in which both characters save each other, from doubt, from angst, from the mundane high school life. And because if that, it’s a love story. Well done, Rainbow Rowell. Well done.