mini-review · stuff I read · YA all the way

Eleanor and Park

Summary from Goodreads:
Two misfits.
One extraordinary love.

Eleanor… Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough…Eleanor.

Park… He knows she’ll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punch line. There’s a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises…Park.

Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.

Those of us who lived through high school know that the “cool” kids are also often the most cruel.  Reading Eleanor and Park brought all that back to me.  How the girls are really mean to Eleanor because she’s a big girl, with wild red hair, and pretty much no money (of the three, in the suburban eighties probably the money thing is going to be the worst).  How the teachers really didn’t do anything to help Eleanor (I was lucky in that teachers intervened when I was teased but no one is willing to help Eleanor here).  Her homelife is terrible (one of my Goodreads status updates mentions that I want to light her stepdad on fire – in retrospect, I might push her mom into the blaze, too).  Park is on the margin, too – he’s half-Korean and the kids make no bones about slurs even if he is “accepted” within the school population.  As much as he doesn’t want to jeopardize his tenuous standing, there’s just something about Eleanor.  One of my favorite lines mentions that he thinks she looks like art, and art isn’t neat, it’s beautiful and messy.

Being set in 1986 there were some cultural brand drops that caught my eye – anyone remember Esprit bags? – and oh, the hunt for Walkman batteries.  I do wonder why Rowell chose to set the book in the eighties (which, considering the current YA population is starting to have birthdates firmly in the 21st century, puts the book into a historical fiction category – wow, did that just make me feel old) but Eleanor and Park’s story is one that works when put into any cultural context.

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