Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell

Excuse me for a moment while I squee a little bit; I love love loved this book. Okay.

I've been wanting to read this for a while, and the upcoming YALC this weekend gave me the perfect motivation. It's also become something of a Twitter juggernaut recently...I'm fully expecting a The Fault in Our Stars style explosion of love for this novel...

This book could so easily have been a soppy, twee story of teen-aged star crossed lovers making dramatic gestures and cooing at one another. Thankfully it is so much more than that; it's intense, sincere and tender and it is completely submerged in the heartbreak, pain and beauty of first love. To begin with it simply made me laugh, then it just killed me.

Briefly and without spoiling anything, the wild haired and unconventionally attired Eleanor has just moved into a too-small house in Omaha with her downtrodden mother and numerous younger siblings. Her alcoholic brute of a stepfather threw her out a year ago and has only just allowed her to come back. On the first day of her new high school, Park begrudgingly lets her sit next to him on the bus to avoid the agony of watching the new girl accidentally taking someone else's seat. Terrible bus protocol. Despite it taking several weeks to exchange a word, they gradually fall in love- the rest is a whirlwind of comic books, mix tapes, high school politics and the agonised exhilaration of first experiences. They fall in love in a way unique to teenagers- with intensity and self-consciously. A person only has one shot at first love and Eleanor and Park do not waste their chance on each other.

I absolutely and completely loved the characters; Eleanor and Park are simply brilliant creations. I loved the way that each of them only really came to know themselves when they'd begun to know each other. Park, the only (obviously) half Korean kid in Omaha doesn't struggle with his own identity exactly, but he struggles to place himself in the wider world. Eleanor is hugely self conscious about her body and her home life, but Park manages to make her forget that and truly escape into his company for a few hours a day. Each of them are incomplete without the other, and it is simply a beautiful story of love and discovery, rather than romance, and about the slow building of trust and the self-sabotaging impulses that run through even the strongest of people.

I loved Park's family, and all the crazy that came with it. His relatives were all believable and their relationships were realistic, easy to relate to and really endearing. His "best shape of my life" action hero Tom Selleck dad had me in stitches and it was such a lovely (though inevitably complicated) father-son relationship.  My heart broke for Eleanor and the awful, terrifying situation that she was placed in daily, and I was so angry at her mom for letting it happen, for not taking herself and her family out of the clutches of her husband. I admired Eleanor's strength and her courage, and I loved Park for being able to see through all the secrets and the shame.

This book is incredibly well written, with brilliantly funny prose that can have you laughing on one page and wincing with internal pain on the next. It was compelling and nostalgic, and the intensity of that first love screamed out from every line. I really liked the frustratingly enigmatic ending, some things are just unknowable, even to readers who get to know characters as intimately as we get to know Eleanor and Park. It is simply a lovely book about love and finding the place that you belong.

No comments:

Post a Comment