A few weeks ago I read Fangirl. When I finished it, I knew it would only be a matter of time until I read Eleanor & Park too.
Once I get an idea like that into my head, it’s not going to be very long until I make it happen. I’m not really one for delayed gratification.
Eleanor & Park is completely different from Fangirl. I think I liked Fangirl better but Eleanor & Park is till pretty awesome.
The major difference is that Fangirl comes to us complete with 21st century complications: texting and fan fiction and emails and constant connectivity, even for someone hiding from real life. Eleanor & Park takes us back to 1986 where some people (in this case Eleanor) didn’t even have a home phone. The book becomes much more about the relationship face-to-face (awkward) rather than all the distractions we’ve all become so used to.
Eleanor is the new girl on the bus and she has nowhere to sit. She’s wearing men’s clothes with all sorts of things pinned to them and has bright red hair. She’s an easy target so Park urges her to sit down beside him. Every day they ride the bus together and neither of them says a word. Park notices that she reads his comics with him so he starts waiting for her to read them at the same time. Then he brings her comics to take home with her. She reads each of them several times, careful to return them to him in perfect condition.
And slowly but surely their unlikely relationship takes off. They come from very different worlds: Park lives in a typical family home with his parents, who love each other, and his little brother; Eleanor has just returned home which is a room shared with her four brothers and sisters and a stepdad who is quick to anger.
I have to say that I really appreciated the fact that the romance between these two is so off. Not only do they come from very different backgrounds, but neither of them are the popular kids at school. This isn’t a Bella and Edward thing where one of them can’t believe they could be with someone so cool. Each of them marvels at the fact that they like this other person so much and didn’t see it right away. They are both living in their own heads, with their own insecurities about their bodies, their friends and their families. They are trying to figure out who they are while they navigate the torture chamber that is highschool and make this whole relationship thing work out.
The thing that everyone says about Eleanor & Park is that Rainbow Rowell didn’t chicken out with the ending. The story happens over the course of one school year between a pair of 16 year olds. Most relationships at that age don’t work out. I’m not certain that the ending is as cut and dried as everyone made it out to be though. But life is never black and white either and Rowell once again expertly crafts a true to life relationship that feels authentic but not forced.
On a somewhat related note, my sister (who made me read The Fault in Our Stars) read Me Before You on my recommendation this week. She had some pretty choice words for me when she finished it as she felt I didn’t adequately prepare her for the ending. I feel like now we’re even for that whole Augustus Waters thing!