I finished “Eleanor and Park” last night. I found myself taken aback by the amount of emotion and depth written in this book. These two kids are deeper than most of the adults I know today. Actually, I can count them on one hand. Rainbow Rowell did a great job with this book. Hopefully young readers will take away more than just a high school love story from this book.
When we read a line of poetry and it makes the hairs stand up on our neck, or when we listen to a certain song that can move us to tears of joy or pain, or how you can read a line in a book and your chest gets tight and your eyes feel swollen; sometimes I don’t know how to name the feelings that prompt those reactions. Is it wonder, or pain, or just awe? If I try to describe how “Eleanor & Park” made me feel, I get that same kind of deep, searching, struggling for words reaction.
Eleanor is a big red headed girl who dresses “weird” and is new to town. Nobody wants her to sit beside them on the school bus, because she is different. Park, a tall, skinny, Asian kid, has some popular friends, but also has a deep seeded need to be introverted. He feels sorry for her and lets her sit beside him. He does this with an internal promise to keep “6 inches of space between them”, or this is what tells himself. He reads comic books on the bus and she is too poor to even own a book, so she reads over his shoulder. He sees that she is reading his comic books, and for whatever reason he begins to turn the pages slower, so that she can follow along too. I think he felt intrigue and compassion. Humans and animals will do that when they are perplexed by something. That unconscious move of compassion on his part, builds a bridge between the span of those six inches.
She notices him, noticing her reading, and it embarrasses her. The line she used in the book to describe that feeling was “For some reason, she didn’t want to read in front of him. It would be like…admitting something”. I think this is very relatable. Then, one day, he actually gives her one of his comics to take home with her. He didn’t even know at that point that she was poor, and didn’t have a thing to read of her own. But, he knew she was interested and he wanted to feed that in her. I thought that was out of this world wonderful. He becomes intrigued with her, and she with him as well. As time passes, they share books, music, and the dark humor over the other people they go to school with. I loved this part, this gradual deepening of their friendship. In the beginning, she fixates on his hands. Then, one day, he touches her hand.
"He didn't look up. He wound the scarf around his fingers until her hand was hanging in the space between them. Then he slid the silk and his fingers into her open palm", and Eleanor disintegrated.”
Rainbow Rowell managed to make the act of handholding sensual, yet still innocent.
This book is written in alternating points of view, which in my opinion, makes the book so much better. You get to see both of their reactions, and how they play out to one another. It made me love their characters that much more. The things that made Park and Eleanor different to everyone else in their lives, were also the things that they found to be the same in each other. The characters really connected, even being from opposite ends of the spectrum. She came from a very poor, abuse stricken home, and just somehow managed to survive every day. He came from a comfortable middle class home that was often full of love, but sometimes had a tinge of that condescending banter that might sometimes push an “on the fence” depressed person over the edge. That is where Park was, on the edge, and Eleanor was already on the other side waiting for him. Maybe that’s what makes pain more bearable, is knowing there is someone else out there, waiting on the other side.
Important pages- 41, 73, 111, 227, and 325. There is hope in 325, but its delayed. In these last few chapters, you learn something about waiting. It isn’t the thing itself that maybe gives the pleasure, it is the hoping and thinking of it. It’s almost like the attainment of the thing, will only remove any future pleasure in the waiting. Maybe in the end, we get to feel the sweet bang of hope finally reaching its fruition. Or we find something else to hope for.
This was not a love story, this was a story about hope, and friendship, and maybe something more. I really loved the book.