Rating: 4 out of 5
A couple weeks ago, I was sitting on a train listening to music and reading Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell--you know, minding my own business. It was a Friday evening, and everyone was excited to watch the SF Giants open their baseball season. Well, except me, because I could not literally care less about sports.
Anyway, one particularly inebriated young man sat down in the seat next to me and loudly asked into my headphones what I'm reading. Startled, I mumbled a few sentences to him while he looked at me blankly before offering me a swig from the wine bottle he was holding. I politely declined and returned to my book, realizing with full force that I just experienced the strangest PTSD of my life.
Eleanor & Park is titled after its two leading characters, who during the 1980s develop a budding teen romance while riding the bus together to and from their high school. Eleanor is the chubby new girl, ostracized immediately for her weight, her wild red hair, and her strange attire of oversized menswear.
Park, on the other hand, is Omaha's token Asian guy. A lover of punk rock and comic books, he's an outsider is in own right but left relatively unscathed compared to the ruthless bullying Eleanor suffers. At first, he's fearful that her unpopularity is contagious, but it's his kind heart that makes them fast more-than-friends.
Sitting on that train reading this story reminded me of all the bullying I experienced on my own high school bus--the name-calling, the things thrown at my head, the desperately looking around hoping somebody would come to my rescue--and for a moment, I felt like it was just yesterday.
Despite the pain of all those memories flooding back to me, that's why I enjoyed this book so much. Rowell has an uncanny way of bringing the teenage years to life, which is why it's no surprise that she's dominating the YA genre right now.
Fortunately, I never went through the abuse and neglect that Eleanor is victim to (never have I hated a mother in literature so much), but I can imagine how much deeper my emotional scars would be today if I didn't have a loving, supportive family. Some readers may characterize Eleanor as harsh, rude, and distant, but I see her as someone who has built up walls to protect herself.
The love between Eleanor and Park is passionate without the insta-love and heartbreaking without the melodrama. It's a realistic tale of what happens when the person closest to you is both your problem and your solution. The book's enigmatic ending leaves room for hope, but I'm not going to lie--this story hurts me. It hurts me because I was hurt before, and even though reading Eleanor & Park was like scrapping off old scabs and pouring salt in fresh wounds, I'm grateful for the catharsis. And on a lighter note, how refreshing it was to read about an Asian male love interest--one who loves wearing eyeliner, no less!
All in all, this was a great novel, and I want to thank my friend Marilyn for gifting it to me. I've got Fangirl on my bookshelf waiting for me, but I think I'll need a breather first. I'm glad to say that I've finally read Rainbow Rowell, and this book definitely lives up to the hype. Highly recommended!