Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Eleanor & Park: Emergency circle time for discussion of my feelings

I have three other books to write things about, but Eleanor & Park is just one of those books that you have to talk about immediately . . . with anyone who will listen. This is the reason people HAVE book blogs. Because sometimes the people in your everyday life just don’t really care to hear about how tingly a school bus hand-holding scene made you feel (SUPER tingly . . . and at Sunday brunch, too).

My eggs got all cold and rubbery.

Quick summary: It’s the mid-’80s in Omaha, Nebraska. Eleanor is the new girl in school. She has unruly wine-red hair, a less-than-ideal home life, and a unique personal style that would probably be cool in a John Hughes movie but just makes her an easy target in the real world. She also has an ample figure. “At sixteen, Eleanor was already built like she ran a medieval pub” (p. 18).

Eleanor does not yet know this.

Park is probably the only Asian boy in town, but he grew up there and is well liked. He has excellent taste in comic books (if the character likes Batman, I like the character), terrible taste in friends, an insatiable appetite for new and varied music, and a pretty great home life.

Eleanor has just appeared on the bus for the first time, amid cruel jeering and a general lack of welcome from her peers. After a long, awkward walk down the bus aisle, she has reluctantly taken the only empty seat toward the back of the bus, right next to Park, who makes room for her with equal reluctance. Thus begins the story of a high school relationship, told from the alternating firsthand perspectives of Eleanor and Park.

There are two things about this book that make it universally readable, although it is technically of the young adult variety: (1) its overall ability to replicate the feeling of first love, complete with agony and ecstasy, and (2) the theme of self-perception, and how frequently off the mark it is.

At one point in the book, Eleanor and Park are in their English class and their teacher asks Park why he thinks Romeo and Juliet is still so widely read today. Park's answer is something along the lines of, "Because people want to remember what it feels like to fall in love." Even if it's all-consuming, ill-advised love. Even if it IS Big Will's commentary on the foolishness and selfishness of youth (it is). We just want to feel the butterflies.

Do you remember how popular Twilight was? Of course not. That was ages ago. But it was popular for EXACTLY this reason. As poorly written as it was, it pretty expertly captured that swept-away, can't-sleep, can't-eat, can't-bother-being-human-anymore feeling of epic, hormonal, I-need-you-now love. I remember. I was reading it on a plane, with my mom sitting next to me. And I missed my boyfriend a LOT. If you know what I mean.

Well Eleanor & Park does the same thing. But with smart writing that doesn't make you want to go back in time and prevent Stephenie Meyer from learning to read. ("No storytime for you, little girl!")

The other big excellent thing about this book is the way we learn, through the alternating perspectives, that the way Eleanor sees herself is nowhere near how Park sees her. And vice versa. If we take Eleanor's word for it, she's disgusting. Is she a flawless goddess sent from heaven above? Truly . . . no. But she's so much more beautiful than she feels on a day-to-day basis.

Yeah, so maybe this isn't news. We usually aren't the best judges of ourselves, because we can't be trusted not to judge too harshly. But at almost 28, I STILL need to be reminded of this daily. Just because I quite frequently feel like an eel in a skin suit doesn't mean that's how anyone else sees me. And did I hope that I would be done feeling this way once I was a grown-up lady? Absolutely. I counted on it. But we never grow out of our insecurities. We just deal with them the best we can. And a good book can help with that.

So if you like being visited by the butterflies and also reading words that are put together nicely and also being reminded that you're not a hideous freak, give this a go.

And if you want a smart vampire/human love story . . .



  2. YES I DID. But then I ruined it all with Spike/Buffy, because I couldn't help myself.

  3. Now I'm starting to feel bad that I haven't read this yet when I CLEARLY need to. Because you make an excellent point about the reasons Twilight was/is so popular and yay to this having it without all of the weird abusive relationship crap that Meyer came up with.

    Also I applaud your 80s GIFs + Buffy/Spike

  4. CRY BABY!

    And, awwwww Megs, this is the nicest review! I don't even know how a person could read it and NOT want to read Eleanor and Park. (also, yes to the tinglies with the holding hands and all. WOAH.)

  5. Alrighty you just made me put this one on my wishlist and develop a strangish internet crush on your for the Buffy/Spike gif! Good Job!

  6. Oh no, Alley! Don't let this become another one of THOSE books. You know the ones I mean...The Untouchables. In related news, I'm finally reading Ready Player One.

  7. I think of you EVERY time I use a Cry Baby GIF. Every time.


    Also...the power of Buffy/Spike is great. It's been known to spawn many an Internet crush. Crush away, my friend.

  9. So I saw this post this morning and felt so ashamed that I haven't read this yet that I went to the library after work and requested it.

    Now that I've done that and am back on the right path, I can say AWESOME POST.

  10. Ah, yes...the infamous Guilt Post. As long as it gets you to read the book. ; )

  11. hurray for butterflies and Rainbow Rowell's magic... and shame on me for not having read this book yet! Park seems super awesome! I want to read this just to see if my experience as the token Asian is anywhere near his.

  12. Awwwww, great review! This Rainbow, we will read everything she writes and WE WILL LOVE IT.

  13. No shame! You will read it, and you will be delighted...and all will be well.

    The term "token Asian" seems ridiculous to me...because in LA, there is just no such thing.

  14. Spike was a grown up in the 80's (both of them...) so IT COUNTS.

  15. Hahaha LA is practically Asia now, in some parts!... Make that "most parts".

  16. Rainbow needs to write something not-amazing so we can be politely critical of it and get some of our street cred back.