Do you remember what it felt like the first time you fell in love? How you wanted nothing more than to spend every waking minute with that person, talking about nothing, experiencing everything, and you counted down the minutes, or the days, until you saw them again? Do you remember how you over-analyzed everything the person said, trying to figure out if there was some hidden meaning, some sign the relationship would or wouldn't go the way you wanted? That all-consuming craziness of first true love, thrown into the emotional maelstrom of high school, is the basis for Rainbow Rowell's fantastically quirky and sweet new novel, Eleanor & Park.
It's 1986. Park Sheridan is a half-Korean high school student trying his best just to blend in. He has good friends, yet spends much of his time practicing tae kwon do with his father and younger brother, obsessing over his Watchmen comic books, and listening to music by The Smiths and Joy Division. The first time Eleanor walks onto the school bus (I kept being reminded of Molly Ringwald's quote from 16 Candles, "I loathe the bus"), Park is blown away by her height, her bright red hair, and her unique dress code. Although Eleanor shares Park's seat on the bus, they don't speak at first, for fear of causing ripples in the social strata around them. But little by little, things begin, as Park starts sharing his comic books and making Eleanor mix tapes, and they finally start speaking to one another, and suddenly they realize how much they look forward to these moments.
But of course, the course of loveand lifenever runs smoothly. While Park's life is a fairly open book, despite his somewhat challenging relationship with his father, Eleanor's life is much more complicated. Moving back in with her mother, her new husband (who threw Eleanor out a year ago), and four siblings, she lives in constant fear of causing her stepfather to notice her. And her mere presence, especially as she and Park grow closer, has seemed to incense many of her fellow students, who ridicule and bully her for just being her. This constant guardedness affects both her and Park, as she is constantly questioning the things he says and does, and he is worried every time he says something that she'll take it the wrong way. And she doesn't want Park to fight her battles, yet he is constantly compelled to. But despite all of the challenges and roadblocks, they just can't get enough of each other.
When the situation at home becomes too much to bear for Eleanor, she makes a difficult decision, and Park, despite what it means, helps her. The ending is a tiny bit improbable, but it doesn't matter, because it shows how each views their relationship, and the other's place in their world.
I found Eleanor & Park to be right on target in so many ways. I felt that Rowell's dialogue was humorously authentic without being precious or precocious, and she perfectly captured all of the anxietiessocial and emotionalof high school and first love. Above all, I loved these characters so much, that I was rooting for them and found myself completely captivated by their story. I raced through this book and, of course, I'm now sad it's done. Definitely recommended for those who love quirky relationship stories, and although this is classified as a YA novel, it's definitely geared for all readers. I hope you like it as much as I did.