Title: Eleanor and Park
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Main Plot: 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. (Goodreads)
I might burst. I might literally burst into a pile of happiness and sadness right here on this floor. Then who will put me back together again? I cannot control myself. Why did I read this? Why didn't I read this sooner?
I tried to take my time with this. I really did. It was just too good. I had to devour it. And so I did. And when I say devour it, really I mean, it devoured me.
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.
(Park and his mom)
"Does Dad know?"
"He knows, but you don't have to talk to him about it, okay? This is our business right now, you and me..."
"Is Dad going to be mad at me?" he asked.
"Whose business is this right now?"
"Ours," he said.
"You and me," she said.
In her head, this was Park's doing, too. The world rebuilt itself into a better place around him.
As always, Rainbow's character game is strong. It almost hurts how much I adore these two misfits, Eleanor and Park. Park is quite possibly the most lovable character I've ever read and my favorite in this book, earning him a top place in the ranks of my bookish boyfriends. He's not perfect, but he tries so damn hard and I love him for it. He's tries to be a nice person, to understand Eleanor despite the very different and sheltered life he's use to, and to be honest and truthful without hurting her feelings. And sometimes he fails. Miserably. But he always feels those things acutely and always tries to make them right, no doubt due to his upbringing. His parents steal any scene they are mentioned in because they are also wonderful people (❤️), especially his mom. She's the sassiest. Sass Queen. Eleanor is uncomfortably shy and self-conscious, which is why the portrayal of a girl like Eleanor in love is so important. She's heavier than most girls, and not stereotypically beautiful, a fact that most of the characters in the novel comment on often. Yet, somehow, the reader still comes away with the idea that she is stunning and wonderful and amazing. With a home life that makes me want to to tear this book in two, Eleanor begins the novel reconnecting with her family after having been tossed out by her mom's boyfriend a year ago, and it doesn't get much easier from there. She's a tough cookie and you constantly feel for her heartbreakingly sad story, which I think makes her relationship with Park that much sweeter.
Their relationship, while fast-paced, grabs you and never lets go. Yes, it only takes a handful of bus rides before they begin to fall for each other, but they're sixteen. That's what it feels like when you are sixteen. You meet this person that both quickens your heart and makes you feel so normal for the first time in your life and it feels like forever. And Rainbow does an amazing job at tapping into that experience. The novel is filled to the brim with adorable moments like hand-holding on the bus (who knew it could be so erotic? Hellooo. I knew not), first kisses in hidden passages and dramatic professions of love. I loved every single interaction these two had because it never felt fake. For instance, (very minor spoiler ahead, skip to the next paragraph if you'd like), Eleanor responds "I think I live for you" when Park asks if she likes him and for the first time, it doesn't read super melodramatic or unrealistic to me. In fact, because of Eleanor's dismal home life, it feels like the realist, truest thing she could say and I get it. It doesn't feel like a cheesy, barely true one-liner. It feels brave.
All this talk of character reminds me of a main gripe some have with Rainbow's writing: her novels are majorly character-driven and nothing really happens between the pages. In one way, they are right - Rainbow's characters, so powerfully crafted, urge you do read on - but as for plot, I beg to differ. Life happens. As much as I love the worlds of epic fantasy and dystopian novels, plot isn't one life or death situation stacked on top of anther. For most of us, plot is just life, living with hopes and dreams of something greater and better and more magical. That is the plot of Eleanor and Park, living with whatever happiness or depression that gets thrown their way, and learning to see setbacks as plot twists instead of insurmountable mountains or deep black holes. As expected, Rainbow navigates it all impeccably well through her characters, coupled with poignant writing and storytelling techniques that pull you in by the collar and demand that you listen. If you're wondering if you should read this book, stop it :)