Falling in love with Eleanor & Park

I fell in love with this book, Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell, quickly and completely. Much like how the title characters do with each other.

Eleanor is the eldest of five children in a family smothered under poverty and the tyranny of an alcoholic, abusive stepfather. With bright red, curly hair, pale skin, Rubenesque body, and strange thrift-shop wardrobe, she stands out in school for all the wrong reasons.

Park is a half-Korean, half American-Irish teenager, and he seems to have received more of his Korean mother’s genes. To say he is a minority in 1986 Omaha, Neb is an understatement. He struggles to live up to his father’s high expectations.  And yet he is brave in all the situations that matter, making it easy to fall in love with him.

Synopsis from the publisher: Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.

Let me tell you, I got the feels all through this book, those clenchy-in-the-chest, throat-burning, giddy-with-tension-and-anticipation feelings. I could not put it down. I may have neglected my children for a few hours. The barriers to their relationship (differences in social standing, wealth, lack of privacy or communication options) never feel contrived, with the largest one (her abusive, alcoholic stepfather) serving up the most unpredictable part of the drama.

From the opening scene on the school bus, to the final scene that leaves you wondering what the three words written on the postcard are, and all the beautifully constructed scenes in between, this book deserves all the commendations it received in 2013.

I never had a teenaged first love, or the traumatic heartbreak of its loss, but here I’ve experienced one by proxy through these characters.

[Aside: I think I am turning into my mother. When I was a teen, she constantly borrowed the YA fiction I read. I thought she was weird at the time, but now I understand. It’s nice to disappear into a fantasy world where the storyline and structure is clear, the protagonists are likeable, and there is a clear conclusion to the story that you don’t have to work hard for. Sometimes you just want a good story that makes you feel something.]