Ever since I finished Attachments, I've been thinking about the reason why it made such a lasting impression. There is a lot about it that’s unique and special, but as a whole, it’s nothing but a simple story of love and friendship. Now that I've read Eleanor and Park, I think that the reason why Ms. Rowell’s stories resonate with me is because she writes about people we know and can identify with. Her books walk the fine line between deep emotion and downright cheesiness, but the one thing they always maintain is their honesty. The emotions her stories elicit come from the true connection that develops organically between the reader and the characters, and never feel forced or fabricated. Her stories are certainly emotional, but they are never emotionally manipulative.
Because sometimes clichés are the best way to describe something, I will say that Eleanor and Park is a story about two outsiders who find a place to belong when they meet each other. And yes, it sounds like every other story out there, especially if said story happens to be a YA novel, but that doesn’t make it less true.
Park is an outsider at home, because his father doesn't understand why his son would rather listen to music and read comics than play sports and have girlfriends. At school he manages to go unnoticed by miraculously holding on to the respect gathered years ago when social relationships weren't as complicated.
Eleanor’s situation is way more complicated. After some incident that’s not revealed until later on in the book, she’s finally been allowed to move back home to live with her mother, siblings and abusive stepfather. But on her first day in a new school, it becomes painfully obvious that her bright red hair, old mismatched clothes and weight, make her an easy target for a lot of mindless cruelty.
That first day, Park resents Eleanor for not realizing just how vulnerable she is and for making it impossible for him to ignore her, thus jeopardizing his status at school. So he shares his bus seat with her, but for the first few days they don’t interact. However, when they finally talk to each other, they discover just how starved they were for companionship and the sense of belonging that comes with finding a kindred soul.
This book has domestic abuse, bullying and what looks like impossible love. And I don’t know if it is because there’s a lot of sweetness and darkness mixed together, but the book is neither corny nor melodramatic. And the 80’s setting fills the book with a sense of nostalgia that made me pay attention and heightened my emotional response.
Eleanor and Park is a love story about romance and friendship. And both parts are sweet and have a force that is almost desperate. It develops too quickly and it gets really intense, something that under different circumstances would have bothered me more, but it fits the tone and feel of the book, and more importantly, it balances an ending that’s happy and hopeful but also believable and bittersweet.
It’s great to see a writer unafraid to take risks and who doesn't conform to genre conventions. The two protagonists don’t look like what the genre has us used to. Eleanor is striking but doesn't match the ideal of beauty; Park is short, nerdy and the only reason he’s somewhat athletic is because his father forces him to be. Her poverty doesn't make her a damsel in distress or an object of sympathy. She keeps her agency, saves herself (with some help from others) and is at times angry at everything and everyone. He is half-Korean and trying to find his own identity while his mother struggles with fitting into a different culture. He’s selfish enough to consider ignoring the new kid to avoid becoming a target, but brave enough to offer her a sit next to him. So even if I didn't love this book as much as I did Attachments, it equally resonated with me and introduced me to a set of characters that I will always remember.
It’s not a perfect book, far from it, but I highly recommend it to everyone, especially to those who might be a bit jaded and are in need of a story that feels warm, sweet and welcoming.
Review by Brie
TWO MISFITS. ONE EXTRAORDINARY LOVE.
It's 1986 and two star-crossed teens are 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. A cross between the iconic '80s movie Sixteen Candles and the classic coming-of-age novel Looking for Alaska, Eleanor & Park is a brilliantly written young adult novel.Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
St. Martin’s Press. February 26, 2013.