Thursday, December 5, 2013
Review: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Review: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Release date: February 26th, 2013
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Rating: Swoons, pop culture, feels, and gorgeous writing.
Set over the course of one school year in 1986, ELEANOR AND PARK is the story of two star-crossed misfits – 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.
Having read and loved Fangirl, I went into Eleanor & Park with a certain amount of trepidation. Would it live up to its tremendous hype? (I mean, it just wont the Goodreads "Best YA novel of 2013" Award!) Was it even possible to make me ship a couple as strongly as I shipped Levi and Cath? (I'll start printing shippy t-shirts and writing fanfic about them any day.) Or was my love affair with Rainbow Rowell's witing just a fluke?
(Spoiler alert: it was not.)
Fangirl will always occupy a special place in my heart because of how it spoke to my soul. But Eleanor & Park has this slow, messy, beautiful, strange, broken, healing quality to it that sucked me in from the start. We're presented with two teenage protagonists with issues and passions and insecurities of their own: the overweight and under-loved Eleanor, and the half-Korean, fully-music-obsessed Park.
(Spoiler alert again: I SHIP IT.)
This book is weird, and I mean that in the best way. Rowell has a way of putting together characters and descriptions and sentences like no one else would do. Sure, that might but some people off, but to me sinking into a Rowell novel is like sinking into a warm bath, and you just want to sigh and roll around and let all the loveliness was over you. Her descriptions are unique because they're so honest.
Our titular lovebirds meet on the school bus in Omaha in 1986. Eleanor is the new kid. She wears men's clothes, she's curvy, she has wild red hair, and she's sharkbait for the bullies. They do not get off to the greatest start. They're both humiliated, cranky, and none too complimentary towards each other in their thoughts.
And then guess what happens. The fall in love over pop culture. It is my ultimate fantasy. See, Park brings his comic books onto the bus in the morning. Soon, Eleanor starts reading over his shoulder, and the rest, as they say, is history. I could have listened to Eleanor and Park talk about 80's pop culture all the livelong day. I don't even know what kind of shippy magic Rowell is wielding, but she made me swoon over a hand-holding scene like it was that car-window-steaming scene in Titanic.
I also made some really embarrassing sounds during the phone conversation scene. I may or may not have tucked my knees into my chest and rolled around my bed like the hedgehog croquet balls in Alice in Wonderland. It was super-un-embarrassing.
Basically, Rowell knows how to make me swoon, and she also knows how to make me feel. She has a way of understating really strong and dramatic things that somehow causes them to have more impact. I totally felt and related to Park's issues with his father, with the kind of everyday racism an Asian-looking boy would have come up against in a predominantly white and suburban corner of the Midwest in the 1980s. And Eleanor. Perhaps this storyline veered a bit into melodrama, but my god, Eleanor's horrible home situation and her nightmare of a stepfather made me ache. But it also made the tenderness and unconventionality of her relationship with Park all the more beautiful.
I loved the pace of their relationships, the safe havens they created for each other, and the healthiness of their love. It was so lovely to read about a teenage couple who seem to bring out so much good in each other. Oh, and who make me swoon. That's the really important part, here.
I'm having difficulty expressing myself with this review. Equal parts heart-warmingly cute and heart-breakingly brutal, Eleanor & Park is kind of like that eclectic mixed tape that you need to listen to at just the right time in your life, and it will feel like it's speaking directly to you.
And I totally poked myself in the eye with the corner of the hardback at the end, there. That is the ONLY REASON my eyes were watering. Obviously. STOP STARING AT ME WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING AT.
This book won't work for everyone (though obviously it's working for a good chunk of the reading population). Considering I'm all about fantasy and sci-fi and epic plots and action sequences, you'd think a contempoaray like this wouldn't be for me, but oh. Oh, it so very much was.