It must be the twilight zone! How is it possible that I have read two books for fun in the first month of school. How unheard of! I can almost guarantee that this will not happen again this school year as we ramp up on course content, grading, and technology integration. But somehow, magically and perfectly, I found myself with the gift of time and filled it with a second novel. It probably also helped that I was flying to Las Vegas and would be trapped on a plane for 5 hours each leg of the journey.
When packing for the trek out West, I brought along Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. I am not going to lie. The book’s cover art drew me in.
The simple design and the starkness that is illustrated is seductive. What could the pages of this neat novel hold? Curious and intrigued, I read through the story of Eleanor and Park on the flight to Vegas not knowing if judging a book by it’s cover would prove a folly.
The novel’s structure is unique and surprising. Each chapter is broken into short sections that take on the perspective of either Eleanor or Park. They each tell their version of the event or emotion allowing the reader the unique opportunity to look out into the high school occurrences that each protagonist experiences through their eyes. Eleanor is introduced to us as a “big” girl with red hair, lots of curves, and an offbeat fashion style. Set in the 1980s and sprinkled with various references to music and culture from that time period, we learn that Eleanor’s situation at home is rough. It is the definition of rough and the reality of having to manage a house like that with high school is heart-breaking. At yet, despite every reason to complain, Eleanor pushes through each day. She cannot afford new clothes, pencils, real food, or a toothbrush. Her family struggles with their poverty and with an abusive stepfather in silence. And as a result of this, Eleanor is tagged as “other” by her peers.
Park is not quite popular but neither is he an outcast. Operating on the fringes of the popular group, his high school experience is quite typical. His family is not broken, he has access to trends, music, and fashion, and he has friends. Unlike Eleanor, Park has lived in this town his whole life and get its. He enjoys comics and alternative music and even dabbles in a little “guy-liner” to present the rockstar side of him. But, He has the poor fortune of sitting next to Eleanor on the first day of school. In the beginning, he stresses and worries about how she will drive down his social capital. And, yet over time they begin to bond over the comics and music he loves so much. His small kindnesses leave Eleanor love sick. This bus ride bonding becomes so much more as Eleanor begins to break down her many layered walls. Park represents safety, security, and good clean fun, all things that Eleanor is not given permission to even hope for.
Their burgeoning love though cannot hold back the world. As the New York Times reviewer noted, “Park’s parents — two of the best-drawn adults I can remember in a young adult novel — serve as evidence that sometimes love conquers the world, and Eleanor’s family is a reminder that sometimes it doesn’t. As for Eleanor and Park . . . well, I won’t spoil it.”