Updated on March 17, 2015
Eleanor and Park
I just finished reading Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park and now I don’t know what to do with my life. Remember those feelings I had during The Fault in Our Stars? This is like that, but so much worse. Worse because… because…
Okay, for starters, everyone has known at least one Eleanor, even if they were never aware of it. Especially if you went to public school. Some of us even had some Eleanor-like qualities. She’s that kid. The weird kid. The one who your parents always told you that you should befriend, stick up for, because they needed a friend like you. Needed a friend at all. But you couldn’t bring yourself to do it, even in a charity-case kind of way. Not because the Eleanors of the world aren’t nice or worthy or anything, but because you were scared. Maybe you weren’t popular, but you didn’t want didn’t want to stand out like she did. All the wrong ways: her hair, her clothes, her weight. You had your own place in the school, and you were safe.
Maybe if you had known how bad things really were, you would have tried, or at least reconsidered. Maybe if you knew that name-calling and pranks were the least of her worries, that school was bad but home was worse, you would have cared. If you’d looked at her, paid better attention, you would have seen the signs of neglect, fear, poverty, abuse. But you didn’t know. You didn’t care.
That’s what happens to Park.
They fall in love over music and comics, mix tapes and Catcher in the Rye. They know each other so well that they know what the other will like before running it by them–and yet they know each other so little that Eleanor won’t even begin to tell Park about her step-father. Park, whose world is as different from Eleanor’s as it could possibly be.
Rowell switches viewpoints between her protagonists almost seamlessly, capturing exactly the confusion and frustration of high school. At the same time, she conveys perfectly the elation of their romance, the high of each new touch. I remember too well the rush of holding hands for the first time, the insecurity of learning about “the ex,” and all the other firsts that Park and Eleanor navigate together.
It’s a beautiful story with a bittersweet, open ending. I am left unsure of how to feel.