There was something about the music on that tape. It felt different. Like, it set her lungs and her stomach on edge. There was something exciting about it, and something nervous. It made Eleanor feel like everything, like the world, wasn’t what she’d thought it was. And that was a good thing. That was the greatest thing.
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.
I love this book. I mean LOVE. It’s been a truly long time since a book has made me feel so many different emotions all at the same time. And I have a confession to make. While I had heard of Eleanor & Park and had added it to my “to read” list awhile back, my interest was peaked when a Twitter friend (the truly talented photographer Jamey M. – seriously, go check him out) tweeted about reading it. After that, I had to run to my local library and borrow it.
Eleanor & Park is set in 1986, which makes me ridiculously happy. As an 80’s baby (though I was only 6 in 1986), I was giddy from all the nostalgic references. Cassette tapes, walkmans, vintage punk bands, landline telephone calls, postcards … all of it makes me homesick for times passed long ago. Aside from the nostalgic mind trip, reading this brought up memories of falling in love for the first time. The familiar feeling of butterflies in the stomach when you see them in the halls, sharing private smiles, passing notes in class, holding their hand for the first time. Ahhh. There is nothing like holding someone’s hand for the first time, and Eleanor & Park isn’t shy with the hand-holding. Not even a little. It’s breath-taking and even a little intense. In fact, this simple act is described in the most beautiful way possible: “Holding Eleanor’s hand was like holding a butterfly. Or a heartbeat. Like holding something complete, and completely alive.”
Eleanor & Park isn’t just about a first love. It’s about being different, bullying and growing up in a difficult and, often times, painful, household. Eleanor isn’t your typical high school protagonist. She’s a misfit. Brand new to the school, a “big girl,” dresses in an unusual style and her mass of curly red hair all makes her stand out and causes her to be a major subject of ridicule. Park on the other hand, has a fairly normal home life and several friends but because of the fact that he is the only Asian kid at school, he often feels that he cannot connect with the other kids his age.
And then one day, Eleanor sits down next to Park on the bus ride to school. And their lives change. Not immediately. In fact, at first they never even talk. But eventually, Park introduces Eleanor to the wonderful world of 80’s music (such as The Smiths) and comic books and they begin to talk. And fall in love. And it gives Eleanor a chance to escape from her horrific step-father and less than happy home life.
Beautifully written and told in alternate voices from both Eleanor’s and Park’s point of views, Eleanor & Park isn’t just about finding love and discovering romance. But also about surviving the hardships that life can fling at you and pushing through all the crap just to see the good at the end of the day.