Length: 8 hours and 56 minutes
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One extraordinary love.
Eleanor... Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough...Eleanor.
Park... He knows she'll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punch line. There's a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises...Park.
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.
“You saved my life, she tried to tell him. Not forever, not for good. Probably just temporarily. But you saved my life, and now I’m yours. The me that’s me right now is yours. Always.”
It’s 1986 and Eleanor is forever the odd girl out at school due to a combination of her weight, her crazy red hair (causing the nickname “Big Red”) and her eclectic fashion sense. Her home life isn’t any more glamorous where she lives with her mother, her cruel step-father and her group of siblings that all share a room with her. School might not be the sanctuary she might hope for but it’s still an escape. One day, not finding a single seat on the bus, she takes a seat next to half-Korean Park who is almost just as much of an outcast as Eleanor. They begin sitting next to each other every day, not saying a single word to one another and slowly but surely, their relationship grows over comic books and music without words being spoken.
I went a long time without picking this one up. Mostly because I’m extremely selective when it comes to contemporary YA but I had read (other than Fangirl) all of Rowell’s other books and I figured I should at least give it a shot. I didn’t find any real issue with it but it wasn’t a breakthrough novel for me. It likely didn’t help it that I had read Pushing the Limits earlier this year which is extremely similar: opposites attract, one of the two have a bad home life, they develop a strong and ‘unbreakable’ bond that changes their lives. I didn’t really care for Pushing the Limits and I felt about the same for Eleanor & Park. It must be said though that I appreciated the less than perfect girl, Eleanor was overweight with crazy hair and has a mad love for music. I wanted to love her. I loved how we didn’t have the obligatory insta-love, but rather a slow-building love that developed in silence. I wanted to love it, I really did.
When we aren’t given glimpses of Eleanor & Park falling in love, we’re shown just how awful and terrible Eleanor’s home life is. She has to make sure to take her baths when her step-father isn’t home since their bathroom is lacking a door, she can’t afford a toothbrush or batteries for her Walkman which is everything to her, she’s not allowed to have friends over and she’s interrogated fiercely if she leaves the house. Her mother, in fear of her husband, won’t help her and leaves her to suffer his wrath alone. It was heartbreaking yet resonated an honesty that I think is sorely lacking in most YA contemporary. While it was heartbreaking though, it was also hopeful, because Park gave Eleanor a much-needed spark that she needed in her life.
So where did it go wrong for me? I loved their slow-build love, their lack of vocalizing, it was obscure and different from any other love story I had read before. It didn’t stick to that same path though, it ended up veering off into typical territory with them declaring their undying love for one another after a few short weeks. I can completely understand finding that person that gives you that spark when you need it most in your life, but must it always transform into an “I simply cannot live without you. I will die.” It’s overboard and dramatic. Their bonding over comic books and music was wonderful and built a friendship between the two of them before the romantic feelings ever came. I kind of wish that it would have been kept as a friendship because I never truly felt the attraction between the two of them like I should have. The aspects of this book I loved, mostly the beginning, still made this well worth the read and I’m glad that I finally picked this up.
From a post on BookRiot “…members of the district’s Parents Action League deemed the Rowell’s breakout YA novel Eleanor & Park “dangerously obscene.” The”too hot for teens and taxpayer money” novel was ordered off school library shelves and there was a call to discipline the school librarians who chose the book.” Also, “The Parent Action League cited 227 instances of profanity in the book (including 67 “Gods”, 24 “Jesuses,” and four “Christs.”) as well as crude and sexually charged material that was inappropriate for students.” Despite my less than glamorous rating, I still feel like this is a valuable read that will open teens eyes and I would personally recommend it to my teens to read. Sure, there’s profanity. Sure, you’d like it if your teens don’t use it but regardless of how sheltered you keep them it’s simply not possible to shelter them from everything. Dangerously obscene. You know what’s dangerously obscene? Banning books. The only thing we’re accomplishing is making sure that our future generations are narrow-minded and in denial about the realities of the world.