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 16.
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, this 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.
Best of all, she had Park’s songs in her head–and in her chest, somehow.
Eleanor is the new girl in school and on the bus. Because she looks different than the other girls (she’s kinda chubby and she has massive red curly hair and tons of freckles), no one exactly wants to let her sit with them. Park takes pity on her, and they start a somewhat tense non-relationship that exists exclusively on the bus. Eleanor is the oldest child of 5, who recently moved back in with her family (including her mother’s husband) after a year of living with their former neighbor because the step-father, Richie, threw her out. Now she’s walking on eggshells around Richie, trying to blend into the background and not cause trouble for herself or anyone else so that she can continue to be with her family.
Park is just a guy on the bus who takes pity on this girl because he cannot see any other option. Park is annoyed to have Eleanor sitting with him because it draws attention to himself, and he’d prefer the bus situation to remain status quo, but then he starts to take slow steps toward a friendship with Eleanor through comic books and music and their friendship builds until it’s obvious there is an attraction there on both their parts. Though Park’s life isn’t perfect, his issues are related to his mixed heritage (half Korean/half Irish) background and being a teenage boy who doesn’t always see eye to eye with his father.
There are a couple different conflicts at play here. 1) Her stepfather is very controlling, not just of his wife but of all the kids. He’s a belligerent, abusive drunk, and it’s best to just stay out of his way. He doesn’t like the idea of Eleanor having a boyfriend, so she has to make a fake friendship with a girl on the bus, Tina, who she says she is spending all her time with. 2) Eleanor is being bullied by the same person she told Richie she is spending so much time with. Park doesn’t want to believe that Tina would do such a thing because he’s known her forever, and pretty he much ignores it until it gets to a point where his feelings for her are much farther past acquaintance-on-bus.
Where do I begin? This book is so perfect in so many ways. First of all, it takes place in 1986, and it reminded me of all the quirks and characteristics of that fun decade (I would have been 10 at this time, so I’m not particularly familiar with the music other than the most basic way of knowing the song when I hear it) and Rowell’s use of alternating perspectives is an excellent narrative device that makes the book that much more effective and moving. One of my favorite scenes is an episode of bullying that leaves Eleanor in her PE uniform. She stumbles upon Park and thinks his reaction to her is embarrassment at their connection, but from his point of view, his physical attraction to her punches him in the gut.
Rowell creates a place for the two of them to be themselves with each other in a way that makes it safe. This understanding of each other makes both of them stronger and it’s with this strength that they conquer the things that hurt them. I particularly love how Park’s relationship with his father became better. (His parents are all around Bad-Ass, despite their initial feelings about Eleanor.) Eleanor and Park’s love for each other doesn’t change the world, but it makes it more livable. I love that, whatever their future holds, Eleanor has known good in the world and I hope this gives her power to want to reach for it again.
Pecans: 5/5 If I could give it more, I would