Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Published by St. Martin’s Press on February 26, 2013
Genres: young adult, realistic/historical fiction, contemporary romance
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I’m so glad I have this book a second chance.
When I first tried to read Eleanor & Park, I was turned off by the heavy swearing. (This continues throughout the book, so if swearing is something that bothers you, be warned.) But, months later, I found a copy of this book at the library, and I checked it out, hoping to give it a second go.
And it is as good a book as everyone says it is.
I don’t know how Rainbow Rowell does it, but she perfectly captures first love. Perfectly. The butterflies, the drama, the feeling of falling, that connection that is just instinctual, something that starts as a heart feeling, but becomes a gut feeling very quickly. All these indescribable things Rowell somehow manages to describe with acute accuracy, as well as capturing the trials of first love so very, very well.
I connected fiercely with Eleanor in particular. Bullied at school for her weight (I was overweight as a child, so her self-consciousness about her weight and her anxiety over how others perceived her because of it resonated very strongly with me) and her general appearance and abused at home by her stepfather, Eleanor is incredibly resilient, but she’s lonely, too. And while she’s fierce and independent, she doesn’t like not fitting in that much either. She wants to be loved and cherished, but she’s not sure how someone like her is deserving of such things. She wants safety and security and something that’s hers–all of which, in her world, seem to be the most impossible things to receive.
Park reminds me of one of my first loves. Frustrated because of who is (or, should I say, the family he belongs to), he has some friendly acquaintances, but he’s not exactly popular. He’s impatient and stubborn, but he’s also fiercely loyal and sensitive and kind. And he wants to make things work, despite all the forces in the world trying to keep Eleanor and him apart.
Again, Rowell captured the teen love dynamic perfectly in their relationship: the intensity, the emotions, the ferocity (I know, I use variations of that word too much here) of fighting for something that’s real and deep and meaningful in a world where nothing else seems to be, of holding on to each other because you’re all each other really has.
I know that story well. To some extent, I’ve lived a similar one–with different factors, of course (no abuse, we met in a different place, not in the 80s, he was more my one and only than I was his, I think). But this book took my heart and filled it with warm and fuzzy things. This book filled my heart with nostalgia, with the memories of something that was once very real to me, and very dear. Sometimes, I actually can’t think about this book, because then I think about that person, and I start feeling blue.
So, if I loved this book so much, why not five full stars? I will say that, yes, the swearing was a bit too much for me at times. (Some of it felt unnecessary, and some scenes felt a little gratuitous, but take that verdict with a grain of salt.) Also, the ending, while it was inevitable, made me wanting more, darnit. However, in the big picture, these were only minor complaints. While this wasn’t perfect, it was darn near close.
This book will make you think about your first love. It’ll make you giggle, and it might make you cry. But most of all, it’ll make you remember, and it’ll make you feel. And I think that’s one of my favorite parts about it.