Eleanor & Park: Discussion!

E&P-collage, 1

I adored everything about Eleanor & Park, including the ending. I’ll break down what I loved about this book–me, the jaded reader who assigns 3/5 stars when I’m feeling generous–in greater detail below, but first I thought I would explain how I came across my favorite book of 2013.

My nutritionist knows how much I like to read, so she recommended I read body-positive fiction. We can define body-positive in this case as characters who are overweight and still manage to win the guy/get the promotion/save the world/etc. [The definition of body-positive changes with the person, obviously. I want to be clear on that--a tall, thin, and delicately shaped woman is still a woman and isn't by inference body-negative.] She suggested was Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner. I read it.

Yeah. So, anyway.

I decided to branch out and read some more books and began looking on Goodreads for lists featuring books with plus-size or chubby or rubenesque or soft protagonists and found a couple. Eleanor & Park was down towards the bottom of one of the lists. It had a cute cover, so I clicked on it. When I saw it was young adult, I made that ‘just swallowed a lemon’ face and moved on. But I really thought the cover was cute and the lists were otherwise atrocious, so I caved after a week or two.

I couldn’t put it down. Here’s why.

E&P-characters

Diversity, Reality, and Characters

Eleanor is a classically overweight high school girl in that she’s big, but not as big as she thinks she is, and her boyfriend finds her and her “negative space” more appealing than Storm or She-Hulk or “Betty Boop drawn with a heavy hand.” Her hair is a bright, curly red and she’s covered in freckles. Her clothing is frightening in its creativity, but she pulls it off because it’s not clear that her classmates realize she alters her clothing to hide her poverty as well as display her individuality.

She’s a freak, and not always by choice. She’s socially awkward and hard to be around. When Park falls in love with her, she doesn’t magically turn into someone beautiful and polished. She remains the same in appearance and affect; it’s only Park’s appreciation for who she is that changes and even after falling in love with her he doesn’t always see her through rose-colored glasses. It’s not a blind love.

Speaking of Park. He’s half-Korean, 5’4″, and slender. Thank you, Jesus.

First, Asian romantic male leads are few and far between. Second, when there is one, he’s always, always, always 7’2″ and 275 pounds of sinuous muscle. I’m not saying Asian men can’t be tall and ripped. Obviously, they can. (Newsflash: so can Latin men.) I’m saying it was refreshing to read a male romantic lead who didn’t battle his perceived romantic rivals in hand-to-hand combat and then toss aside their broken, bloodied carcases so that he could urinate a proprietary circle around his fair maiden using his “so enormous!” staff of life.

Long live Beta Heroes.

E&P-words

The Dialogue, The Writing

Yes, the first chapter was littered with f-bombs. But, you know what? I remember most of the boys on my high school football team talking like that. It seemed realistic to me. Teenagers cussing, trying to be adults and using words to seem more mature when what they are talking about is anything but. The rest of the book is not like that, thought there is mature language and concepts. (No sex.)

There is a scene where Park holds Eleanor’s hand for the first time that is so wrought with tension I swear you will be transported back to the first time someone held your hand. I read that scene several times because it described that feeling of euphoria so well, and not once did the characters feel electric sparks shoot from their finger tips and radiate up their arms. [sidenote to all other writers: stop with the electric sparks and touching. We're humans, not conduits.]

The Setting

1986 Omaha, Nebraska. While they both live in a working class neighborhood, Eleanor is at the poverty line because of her abusive, alcoholic step-father. She doesn’t own a toothbrush. She brushes her teeth with salt packets from the cafeteria and while at first that sounds hard to believe (who doesn’t have a toothbrush?) you soon realize it for what it is: another way for her step father to degrade and control her.

That sounds unbelievably sad and like nothing I should relish, but I loved that the financial divide wasn’t so great between the two. I’m not a fan of the rich man swooping in to save his Eliza Doolittle.

The Music. The Music!

I hear Eleanor and Park may be made into a movie. This fills me with optimistic dread. I’m suspicious of how Hollywood will handle a chubby redhead and a slender Asian. The soundtrack, however, should be excellent.

Love on a Farm Boy’s Wages by XTC is the song Park was listening to when the book opens.

XTC was no good for drowning out the morons at the back of the bus.

Park pressed his headphones into his ears.

Tomorrow he was going to bring Skinny Puppy or the Misfits. Or maybe he’d make a special bus tape with as much screaming and wailing on it as possible.

He could get back to New Wave in November, after he got his driver’s license.

–Eleanor and Park
Rainbow Rowell

eleanor-park-by-rainbow-rowell

The Only Thing That Bugged Me, But Only A Little

This book is marketed as a young adult novel, and presumably a girl Eleanor’s age is the target demographic. I disagree, and it bothers me that publishers assume that young characters automatically mean young adult. I’m trying to think of every 16 year old girl I know, and I can’t think of one who would catch 75% of the humor as it relates to 1980s culture. I also don’t know that most 16 year olds–who themselves are experiencing first love–would understand the nuances explored in Park and Eleanor’s relationship. That entire Romeo and Juliet analysis would have flown over my head in high school. So would the familial relationships and how they contributed to their thoughts and feelings on falling in love and first love.

If I read this at 16 I would have squee!d the entire time until I got to the end. Then I would have been: !!!!!. Today, as an adult woman, I think the ending is what it should be. I still want my sequel, don’t get me wrong. I hear there’s going to be one of those, too.

Okay! I’ve prattled on long enough and I haven’t even talked about my favorite parts, nor have I done any heavy lifting in the analysis department. I thought I’d save that for the comments to avoid spoilers.

Warning: Spoilers are fair game in the comments!

Image sources: most are from tumblers, which means they could be from anywhere, but you can find “direct” sources in my Eleanor and Park pinterest board. The exception to this is the 2-picture Eleanor and Park character collage I created, but the original images are in the board. The man is Korean actor, Hyun Bin.

Comments
61 Responses to “Eleanor & Park: Discussion!”
  1. I loved this book and can’t wait to hear everyone’s thoughts.

    But first: movie? sequel? YES. (With fear and trepidation, and the movie will probably be terrible, but since it’s E&P I’m embracing youthful optimism.)

    I loved the structure of this book: on page 1 you learn how things end, and on page 2 (and 12, and 37) I was still flipping pages as fast as possible to find out how on EARTH we were going to get from stone cold shoulder to desperately in love. The dialogue, drive, characters were all so good.

    I don’t have 16 year olds yet, so I’m imagining my teen babysitters, but I wouldn’t recommend this book to them. I wouldn’t want them reading it (sex, language) but mostly I don’t know if they would have the perspective to enjoy it, to really get it.

    I have now requested every previous Rainbow Rowell book from the library and preordered Fangirl. Come on, September!

    (Also, my gushy musings about E&P are here: http://modernmrsdarcy.com/2013/07/picture-frames-perspective-and-mad-gushy-book-love/ )

    • Jules says:

      My library, naturally, does not carry Attachments. (I’ve checked.) So, I will have to buy it and Fangirl, which I have no problem doing.

      I love that the ending to the book is no great mystery (it wasn’t to me) and like you said in your post and I hinted in mine, that Romeo and Juliet passage was brilliant. I also loved how she described them falling in love. It wasn’t glorious with harps and doves and the sky splitting open. It was Park noticing Eleanor’s hair ends in a soft red point at the back of her neck when she wears it up, and Eleanor noticing that Park chews his pencil when he’s thinking.

      I hear the sequel will be set 10-15 years in the future and will be different. Different, I suppose, is meant to be interpreted as “not YA.” Again, I assume this is because Park and Eleanor are now adults. I didn’t think E&P was YA, so…

      • Becca says:

        Request the book at your library, they will order it and even if you don’t check it out from there others will and Rainbow’s works will be shared with others :)

      • Phaedra says:

        Your library makes me sad. :( It also makes me appreciate my library which has had every book I’ve wanted except 2 in the past 5yrs :)

  2. 10-15 years in the future? I’m off to do some googling about this sequel…

    • Jules says:

      You can find all the information on Rainbow Rowell’s blog. You can also find her soundtrack for E&P and Attachments there, too. (I KNOW.)

  3. I haven’t read this one–but now I really want to. Just wanted to chime in on your frustration with labeling books as YA just because the characters are teens. YES! Another one in that vein you might like is The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Which, yes, was made into a movie. The movie was OK–I think only OK because I liked the book so much better. That one has a male protagonist, and it’s got some romance, but it’s really a story about teen friendship.

  4. Shaina says:

    I just got the email this morning that my hold was available for pickup! So I will be grabbing that after work, reading it, and coming back later to read everyone’s input. Sounds like I’ll enjoy it!

  5. Kathy says:

    I’m still reading your review but I had to stop to tell you this. I texted my husband that exact section with Park and Eleanor on the couch when I was reading the book. It gave me goosebumps then and now, reading it here.

    (She has a new book coming out soon. I think it’s called Fangirls.) Okay, back to reading your review. :)

    • Jules says:

      Which passage? The one about looking nice, or the one about Skinny Puppy?

      • Kathy says:

        The never looking nice one – describing how it felt to Park when Eleanor sat next to him. Such a unique description for that, I think, universal feeling.

  6. Melissa says:

    I had low expectations, too, and then found myself inhaling the book in nearly a single sitting. While I wouldn’t discourage a teen from reading it–the protagonists are great models of intelligent kids making thoughtful choices, and reading over your head isn’t necessarily a bad thing–I think it’s shame to pigeonhole the book as YA. I felt like I was experiencing the story in some kind of emotional 3D, from my own experiences as both a teen in the ’80s and a parent now. I was all breathless and teary and completely oblivious to my actual surroundings.

    The writing is incredible–as Jules said, the hand-holding scene took me right back. Oh! and the gym locker room scenes…those were just as evocative but significantly less pleasurable. I was also impressed by how fully the author was able to draw the adult characters, even though the book’s point of view only alternates between the teen characters.

    Time to go scour my library for more. :)

    • Jules says:

      That’s the best way to describe how I went into it: expectations looooooow.

      Good point about reading above your level. I did that all the time as a young adult. But! I didn’t do it with books like this. You said it perfectly: emotional 3D. I think that’s part of what made the book so evocative and powerful for me.

  7. HeatherL says:

    I agree with you completely! I had written in my Goodreads review that This YA romance really seemed like it was written about teenagers, instead of for teenagers. The slow progression of the relationship, the importance of every little touch & shared comic, the second guessing on both parts, and descriptions such as “I disintegrated” really took me back to my teen years which occurred a few years after Eleanor & Park’s teen years.

    I don’t know if teenagers would be interested in it because of the setting and because it is too realistic, but I think it is actually a good book for that age group because it is much more realistic than the teen lives usually portrayed on TV & in movies.

    I have read other reviews that mention the “after school special” aspect of it, but I think those elements add depth to the story and do serve to teach the lesson that there is more going under the surface than you may realize, which can be something teenagers tend to overlook.

    I did not check all the 80s reference to see if they were accurate, but it did strike me a little that those references were chosen looking backward from a current day perspective. If Eleanor & Park was actually written in the 1980s I feel there would be more references to things that were considered cool then that would be considered cheesy now or forgotten altogether.

    I am not sure how I feel about a sequel. While it was sad that they went there separate ways, it is also very realistic. I think I would be interested to know what happened to Eleanor (and her family) and what happened to Park, but not really what happened to Eleanor & Park.

    • Jules says:

      I did not check all the 80s reference to see if they were accurate, but it did strike me a little that those references were chosen looking backward from a current day perspective. If Eleanor & Park was actually written in the 1980s I feel there would be more references to things that were considered cool then that would be considered cheesy now or forgotten altogether.

      This is so true, and it’s the humor I think today’s teen would miss. I was a freshman in 1986, a year younger than E&P, so I can say most of the references are correct. But you’re right–had it been written in 1986, there probably wouldn’t have been any mention of big hair.

      I love the idea of a sequel because of the author who is writing it. I don’t think it will be what we expect–at least I hope it breaks mold.

  8. JULES. It made my day to see this post! How did I not know you were reading/discussing this book?

    As I told you on Twitter a while ago, Rainbow and I have known each other since high school, and she’s a good friend. She did not write this book specifically as YA; she just wrote it, and her publisher decided to market it as YA. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, in itself, because if nothing else it will get a lot of teenagers to read a wonderful, smart book about characters who aren’t your cookie-cutter YA protagonists, which will hopefully give them a taste of what good writing and storytelling really is and elevate their taste for future books. But I agree with you that it’s not so much a book for teenagers as it is a book about teenagers.

    Did you know that Rainbow is going to be in L.A. and San Diego soon? She’s doing a reading/signing at Book Soup in L.A. on July 16th at 7pm (I’ll be there!) and another at Barnes & Noble in Mira Mesa on July 19th at 6pm (I’ll be there too!). YOU SHOULD COME to one of them!

    • Jules says:

      I did hear that she was going to be in LA/San Diego, but you are aware that I am socially inept and make Eleanor look like a polished society maven, yes?

      • No worries! That pretty much describes all my crowd. ;-) Seriously, Rainbow is not intimidating–none of us are! we’re all pretty much big dorks!–and I know she’d love to meet you. You should come!

  9. Phaedra says:

    I have so many things to say about this book that I feel them all rushing to get out and it’s a jumble.
    #1. I know this book is categorized as YA, but I didn’t feel it was YA other than the main characters happen to be 16. (I agree with a comment above that teens could definitely enjoy it reading above their level though) I felt that I enjoyed this story all the more for already living the roller coaster of teenage first love & all the awkwardness that goes with it & coming through the other side.
    #2. Rainbow really knocked it out of the park in writing the falling in love scenes. All the intensity that goes with it and how consuming the tiniest details become. ( I also loved that this didn’t turn into a ‘after school special’ about teenage pregnancy, thank you very much! When I started reading that Eleanor’s mom was a teen mom, I thought..ohhh nooooo here we go)
    #3. I love the 80s, but I did stop a couple of times while reading and think ‘hmmm, I’m not sure someone LIVING in the 80s would say ‘__’ ‘ but overall I felt that the way the 80s showed up here was far more real than portraying every teenager in the land as one of three things- Valley Girl, Madonna/Cyndi Lauper or Preppy/jock. In 1986, most of us fell somewhere in between those extremes. This book didn’t feel specifically ‘period’ to the 80s though. Change a few small details & the story is timeless.
    #4. I’m glad she included a different soundtrack to this story! The music choices were great. I was a Freshman in 1986 and remember trying out the whole spectrum of music & it was nice to see something other than pop represented.
    #5. I LOATHE Romeo & Juliet and had a good laugh (SNORT) at Eleanor’s synopsis in class. HA! Along with the ‘stupid, shallow, dead’ comment. INDEED! That made me love her.
    #6. Even though she’s not all that likeable. She’s so wounded. I wanted to gather this wounded bird up and tell her that it’s ok to ask for help! Open up and ask already! (This also made me enjoy Park’s mom. She could SEE Eleanor after she got past the wild exterior & went about accepting her & trying to help without scaring Eleanor off completely). I felt like Eleanor had a long way to go on her emotional growth (Rightfully so. She had a lot on her plate!) The girl is a hot mess. It is going to take YEARS before she’s emotionally available.
    #7. Park seemed very real to me. I liked that he was just a normal kid, from a lower-middle class home with regular problems. Not seeing eye-to-eye with parents as a 16yr old boy doesn’t mean dysfunctional family in his case. It just meant normal teenager trying to find his place, his own ideas & goals. I like that he didn’t look at Eleanor as some perfect person, but as a real person with flaws & still loved her. I think he showed some emotional growth in the right direction by the end of the story. He’s still a heartbroken teen, but it felt like there was hope for him to be a functioning adult with a good support system of family & friends.
    #8. Richie was a first class a-hole, but as easily as this could’ve devolved into ‘after school special’ (this time on physical abuse/ emotional mental abuse or bullying) I was so happy that’s not where the story went. It was only the background story & gave structure to why Eleanor might be a misfit with her peers & wouldn’t be able to participate in normal teenage milestones (homecoming, driving, oh.. BATHING normally..) so the heady excitement of finally being able enjoy one normal teen thing- falling in love- really was highlighted instead of being side-tracked.
    #9. Then end was perfect and I’m slightly disappointed to think about a sequel pushed out 15yrs. I prefer to NOT have a happily ever after if it feels forced. Nothing ruins a story like a slapped on ending that doesn’t fit (IMHO) ugh.
    #10. This book was fantastic as a whole. It was rich & full, and not stereotypical. There was an underlying innocence that came through without trying too hard.

    • Jules says:

      I love everything you wrote, but I especially love your analysis of Park and Ritchie.

      You know, I’m normally one to worry about sequels, but I have a feeling Rainbow will pull it off well. I don’t see her slapping together a happily every after/sunset kind of thing.

      • Phaedra says:

        I will keep my fingers crossed that if a sequel is in the making that she can be just as fresh with that story/book as she was with this one . I’m so glad you found & recommended this book for book club. It’s not something I would’ve found or picked up on my own and it really was an amazing piece of writing.

        • I feel pretty confident in saying that Rainbow will not write your usual sequel. All of her books (I’m sorry don’t hate me for being that person who knows the author but I’ve read Fangirl already) have been pretty different from each other in content and story. They’re all funny and sad and hopeful, but not necessarily happily-ever-after.

          • Phaedra says:

            Thank God for authors who aren’t afraid to branch out and write a different story and not regurgitate the same cr@ptastic stuff over and over again! I will be reading more Rainbow in the future. :)
            *also, I’m not a fan of the HEA in general. So often it just feels fake. I can only suspend disbelief to a point and then it’s slapped on the end and ruins the story’s flow for me. sigh. Sorry. Rant. oops.

          • Jules says:

            That’s what I love about her. Each book is different, and each story features different characters. You don’t see the same ones over and over. *cough*JohnGreen*Cough*

  10. Beverly says:

    Popping in to say thanks again for talking about this book. (I don’t have Twitter, but you must have mentioned it at some point on the blog or FB?) Any-who, I absolutely loved the book and don’t have anything thought-provoking to add other than that. I could care less how it was marketed…it’s people like you that spread the word about great books and authors…and then your readers spread the word to other people, etc. I am reading Attachments now (and wouldn’t have even known about that one if not for you.) Another wonderful read — I’m about halfway through and can’t wait to see where it’s headed. I find myself chuckling to myself (always a good sign). Does your library offer interlibrary loans? I will quite often do that if my library doesn’t carry a book….they will get it from another library and in my case (I live in South Dakota), I have gotten books borrowed from libraries in California and Washington state.

    • Jules says:

      I mentioned it on Facebook. :) I’m so glad you liked it! I have to admit, I really do dislike making recommendations because taste is, obviously, entirely subjective. I limit what I recommend to what I love and hope I don’t waste anyone’s money! This book was a no-brainer.

  11. Lisa in Seattle says:

    OK, because this is something I do know a fair old bit about: How did a 16-year-old kid in Omaha in 1986 become a Skinny Puppy fan? I know Omaha isn’t exactly the moon, but in that pre-Internet era in that part of the country, unless they had an extremely progressive college radio station or a kid moved into town from somewhere like LA or SF or even Seattle (so close to Vancouver BC), how did he even hear any Skinny Puppy? I am wildly curious about this.

    • Phaedra says:

      I wondered this same thing. Being from Portland, and being a teen in 1986 I can tell you that they were only marginally on my radar by the end of H.S. (and I had a pretty wide spectrum of music available to me)

    • Jules says:

      I’m speculating, but here are my thoughts. (Have you read the book? If you have, sorry if I’m being redundant.)

      At one point Park notices that Eleanor has some band names and song titles on her folder. The Smiths, Cure, etc. All bands he likes. So he asks her about them in an effort to have something to talk to her about. She confesses she has never heard their music, and of course he assumes she’s a poser. She goes on and says it’s more of a list of songs/bands she would like to hear but hasn’t because it’s not like she has much of a chance in Omaha, Nebraska. Park goes home and makes her a mixed tape.

      Park is a huge fan of music and comic books. The book mentions at least twice his favorite independent/Punk record store, and I assume that’s where he gets his exposure to obscure (for Nebraska) music. It’s not like he turns on the radio and Skinny Puppy comes on after Glenn Campbell. I got the impression he is passionate about music and learns as much about it as he can. He knows far more about music than his peers. He later gets a job at that same record store and becomes even more involved in music. Throughout the book, Park’s taste in music reflects where he is in his relationship with Eleanor.

      Another way he could have been exposed is through pen pals, back of magazines, Zines, etc. Letters used to serve the same purpose as the internet, albeit considerably slower.

      • Lisa in Seattle says:

        Well, by golly, you may have just inspired me to read this book now, if for no other reason than to watch Park’s musical growth. Industrial culture was a huge part of my life for many years, so it would be interesting to see how he develops. I’m facepalming a little about this being my main interest in the story, but what can you do.

        • Jules says:

          Don’t go expecting it to be a main component. It’s a supporting role, but it was obvious to me Rainbow put thought into what Park was listening to, and when.

          Watch she by some twist of fate reads this and then comments on this blog only to say, “Jules, you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. Shutty.”

          • Torey says:

            Actually Omaha has an independent music scene that is fairly vibrant and a independent music label that has some fairly notable artists on it. So, not out of the realm of possibility that he could have listened to the artists she mentions in the book. Pretty sure Rainbow is an Omaha native so I think she is writing from personal experience.

          • Jules says:

            Torey, she is. I read up on everything about her and the book. I usually do for book club, but I went overboard here because I loved Eleanor and Park so much. It had a very The World According to Garp is-this-fiction-or-memoir feel to it, so I was doubly curious.

      • Phaedra says:

        good call about the punk record store. That sounds plausible.

        • The store in the book, Drastic Plastic, is a real store that has indeed been in Omaha for decades. There were a few other comic book stores and independent music stores in Omaha back then, too. Omaha definitely isn’t Los Angeles or New York, but there are two major universities there and even in the 80s there was a small but thriving alternative scene. People who WANT good music and good art are everywhere, and they tend to find each other, in every era. :-)

          • Lisa in Seattle says:

            That is so cool to know! My knowledge of the middle of the country is zilch, so it’s very interesting to hear from all of you about what the alternative scene was like in that region in the mid-80s. Thanks very much!

    • jasi says:

      this jersey farm girl loved skinny puppy back in high school. you see a local garage band or gather enough friends to drive to the city, you play bass in the basement, you get passed a mix tape and then you trade until you get the music that resonates. you hang out with people who enjoy music, you find small shops that sell music, you go to local shows. i could tell you all about card catalogues and how i used to write research papers too if you’re interested.

  12. Phaedra says:

    DUH. I forgot to end with my take on the whole book inspired by another song that was not a part of E & P soundtrack… ‘no, you can’t always get what you want. but if you try, sometimes you just might find- you get what you need’ -Rolling Stones

  13. Jennifer says:

    I haven’t gotten to this book yet ((having just finished Anna Karanina (which made me want to jump in front of a train)), but your inclusion of the XTC video has convinced me that I have to. I’m a sucker for obscure 80’s alternative rock. Takes me back.

  14. jasi says:

    on the waitlist. can’t wait to read.
    oh, and i love hyun bin. xox

    • Jules says:

      Hyun Bin is not the ugliest man to ever walk the earth, that’s for sure.

      • Erin says:

        May I introduce you to Daniel Henney? Perhaps Eleanor and Park’s lovechild?

        • Jules says:

          Actually, Daniel Henney could probably be Park better than Hyun Bin, since Park is only half-Korean. I saw pictures of Daniel the other night but he looked too old for Park (but not for me! Hah!). Let me tell you, it is NOT easy trying to find a picture of a 1/2 Korean teen boy with green eyes wearing eyeliner and black clothes. In fact, I failed, as you can see. :)

  15. Kat in Canada says:

    First of all, if this E&P does get made into a movie, and they can actually license all the songs listed in the book, the soundtrack is going to be AMAZING (or OMG AMAZEBALLS as the kids say…I think).

    I love, love, love this book.

    First of all, it’s definitely not a YA book. Not because there’s anything inappropriate in it, but I think a lot of the action would be over a teenager’s head. I am far from a teenager, and it took me a while to really figure out what was going on with all the family dynamics.

    What stood out the most for me with this book was how REAL it was. The way Eleanor & Park fell in love was exactly the same way I fell in love with all my boyfriends- there was no “BAM! LIGHTNING! HEART THUMPING!!! LOVE!!!!”. It was so gradual- from classmates or friends-of-friends to friends, to something more- that I don’t ever remember there being a discrete point where it was like “Okay, we’re boyfriend-girlfriend now”, it just WAS. And do I ever remember the feeling you get when the person you like (or maybe more-than-like) touches you for the first time. When I was reading about Park holding Eleanor’s hand for the first time, I had butterflies.

    I also think that it’s an interesting parallel between Eleanor & Park, and Eleanor’s mother & Ritchie. Just like you don’t notice that you’re falling in love with someone, you probably also don’t notice that you’re being abused…until it’s too late. I wonder if Eleanor’s analysis of Romeo & Juliet- that they love the feeling of lust, essentially- is gleaned from watching her mother end up trapped with an abusive man, all because he told her she was “prettier than a spring day”.

    It’s also interesting to contrast Park’s parents with Eleanor’s assessment of Romeo & Juliet- I would assume that Park’s parents didn’t know each other for very long before getting married, but they did marry, and they made a life, and they seem happy…are they like Romeo & Juliet, without the whole double suicide complication? Is it possible to give into that initial lust for lust, or that initial feeling of butterflies, and make it out the other side with an actual relationship?

    And, I loved Park’s parents. I loved how they both had the moment of seeing through Eleanor’s situation, in completely different ways- Park’s mom relates to being part of a big family and growing up in poverty, and she sees the facade Eleanor has to put up. Park’s dad KNOWS who Ritchie is, and knows what he’s like, and knows what Eleanor must be dealing with.

    SPOILERY SPOILERS AHEAD, FOR THOSE WHO AREN’T DONE.

    Initially, I didn’t like the ending. I didn’t like that Eleanor left her siblings behind. In my mind, she should have gone back for them (and the cat!), and made sure all of them were safe. I didn’t like the fact that Park didn’t beat the crap out of Ritchie when he had the chance (mainly because I know people like Ritchie in real life, and I have to stifle the urge to beat them senseless every time I see them). I wanted that heroic, movie ending- villain dispatched, couple rides off into the sunset. I even hated Sabrina- HOW could she put her children in that situation? HOW could she not protect them?

    Upon reflection, my ideal ending would have been extremely unrealistic. No 17 year old, especially one that is scared for her life and wellbeing, would go back into that house. Additionally, in emergencies, you are always counselled to take care of yourself first- put on your oxygen mask, get yourself out of the burning stairwell- because you can’t help others if you’re in trouble yourself. By getting away, and making to her Aunt & Uncle’s house, Eleanor was able to help the other kids. (I did blast through the ending, though, to see if they would be saved eventually!)

    Additionally, Park isn’t a dick. Literally kicking someone when they’re down wouldn’t fit with his character. Additionally, he takes his Taekwondo training seriously- he knows it’s for self defense, and Ritchie clearly is no danger to him, not in his state. I think as he’s standing over Ritchie, he realizes that nothing he can do to the man would degrade him any more. He’s been abandoned by his family (rightly so!), and is literally a drooling mess on his front lawn.

    And, maybe Sabrina was protecting the kids. She watched the door when Eleanor was bathing. She pushed Eleanor out the door ahead of her, when Ritchie kicked her out the first time. In all the times the fighting was mentioned, the kids were always huddled in their bedroom, together- Sabrina was the one bearing the brunt of the physical abuse. Maybe defending your kids (especially when you have limited means) doesn’t always look like Gandalf in the caves- legs planted, shoulders back, “You SHALL NOT PASS!”. Maybe it’s being the Rodeo Clown, distracting the angry bull long enough for the cowboy to get to safety.

    Life isn’t a movie. The villain doesn’t always end up dead (although, there are more painful things than being dead), and you don’t always end up with the person you want to be with, or the person you think you should be with. You’d think that I would know that by now.

    Like I said above, I don’t think this is a YA book, even though it’s marketed that way. If it WAS a YA book, I think the ending would have been different- look at all the most popular YA books and series’ over the last decade. Young person is put in difficult circumstances, young person proves they are exceptional, young person triumphs. All of those books allow the reader to feel like THEY would be able to do the same thing, if they were in the same situation. No teen, who wants to believe they are exceptional, would want to say “Yes, I would run and leave my siblings behind” or “Yes, I would walk away without throwing a single punch at Ritchie”. Everyone wants to believe that THEY would be Katniss, or THEY would be Tris, or THEY would be Harry. THEIR love would triumph over all, like Bella and Edward.

    But they are missing something that you only learn with time, and age, and experience. That being exceptional isn’t always winning a fight to the death, or being heralded as a hero by the crowds. Sometimes, being exceptional is just not letting the bastards get you down. It’s pulling your toilet-soaked clothes out of the garbage. It’s proving to your father that you can drive a stick shift, so you can get your girlfriend away from her abusive stepfather. It’s telling your Aunt & Uncle everything, and letting them get the rest of your family out of Omaha, using resources that you can’t access. It’s letting your first love go, in exchange for her safety. Specifically in Eleanor’s case, being exceptional would be getting into college and ending up with a middle-class life, breaking the cycle of poverty.

    Being exceptional is a thousand little things, every day, that you might not even notice at the time. That’s not poetic, and that’s not interesting, and that doesn’t make a good story. But, life isn’t a short story, it’s an epic. Day-by-day might not be anything special, but look back after 5 years or 10 years or 50 years, and you have a compelling narrative.

    And that’s how it is with this book. None of the choices made were super mega heroic (even as Park is driving Eleanor north, he’s second guessing himself, and wondering how she can be sleeping at at time like this), but they are the choices you look back on later and see as a clear demarcation- there is the before, and there is the after. That’s realistic. That’s life.

    • Jules says:

      I’m not going to lie, I’ve been waiting for your comment all day long. It didn’t disappoint.

    • Susan G says:

      I haven’t read this, and wasn’t planning to as I have so much in the “to read” pile. But having read your post, Jules, and this comment, Kat (I read from the bottom) I am on my way to order it right now. Amazing – love what you said, Kat, about being exceptional. I think sometimes we give up on trying because we can’t do that One Big Thing that will Save the World. We (well…I) forget that small things count and make a difference. Thank you.

    • Phaedra says:

      Love love LOVE this! Great things here and I won’t even mention them one by one because it would be like recapping your entire commentary.

    • Shaina says:

      What you said about being exceptional needs to be one of those images with a quote overlay that passes around Facebook feeds and Pinterest boards so that everyone sees it and is reminded of it. Excellence.

  16. Torey says:

    Haven’t read this, but it’s been on my to read list. I used to read Rainbow when she had a column in the Omaha World Herald (I live in Nebraska) and always loved her writing. So I’m guessing I’ll like her book. If you are looking for another book about unlikely romance with 2 interesting characters check out Courting Greta (a disabled man and a middle aged lady gym teacher). I read it in an afternoon and really enjoyed it.

  17. Rachel says:

    Thank you Jules for recommending this book. I have been substituting book reading for blog reading lately and you have helped get me back in the reading groove again. I am a fan of YA fiction and even if this doesn’t entirely fit in that genre it does a terrific job of capturing the intensity of young love without getting overly dramatic or maudlin (ala Romeo and Juliet). It managed to avoid some predictable plot twists (I was worried when Parks father bought a gun) and kept the characters flawed and human. Loved the 80s soundtrack and will be spending some money on Itunes soon I predict. It brought to mind another charming movie about the 80’s called “Starter for 10″ that sent me back to those times even though it was set in England. If you like Benedict Cumberbatch (PBS’s Sherlock Holmes) he is hilarious in it. Anyway back to the book, the only other thing I will add is that Rainbow captured what it was like to be a new kid in a strange school. I was the new kid around that age and wish I had a Park to lean on. Things got better with time but most kids are so worried about fitting in themselves at that age that they don’t have the time or courage to help someone else. Alas, there aren’t many Parks around in high school. What a clever way to get the two characters together–reading the same comic on a bus. Brilliant. I am going to get my hands on her other books as soon as possible. Great pick!

  18. Erin says:

    Okay, I feel weird being the (apparently) lone dissenter, but it was “eh” for me. And I graduated high school in 1990 and worked in a record store (Camelot Music!) during that time. Truth be told, I didn’t even finish the book.

    I think part of the problem is that I read raves both here and on Modern Mrs. Darcy. So my expectations were high. High! And I can see that this author excels in characterization, but I guess I wanted more action. Plot. Something. I felt like it was the same scene over and over. Maybe it picks up in the last third and I missed it. Anyway, it was from the library, so no loss!

  19. beth lehman says:

    wow, loved the book. and loved reading through the comments. this isn’t the first time i’ve found a great read through you, jules… so thank you! that hand holding??! yes, i remember it clearly and just like the book described. i agree with so many here. the teen label is a bit difficult for me to swallow. my 13 year old won’t be reading this for SOME time and even then, she wouldn’t get it.

  20. Erin says:

    Finally got around to reading the book last night “to help me go to sleep” but then didn’t sleep till 2:45AM. Whoops.

    Some thoughts:
    I was not in happy happy land the way I was with “A Discovery of Witches”…

    BUT
    I love that this book exists. It’s like several books I grew up with, such as those by Chris Crutcher (The Deep End (1992); Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes (1993)[a]; Ironman (1995); Whale Talk (2001)).

    I love the development of Park’s family, and the fact that he’s hapa, and it’s not about him being hapa, which is something we need more of in literature/books for kids.

    I wish that Eleanor had felt like she could talk to her counselor or a teacher. Even realizing that involvement of “the system” could make it worse before it got better… so many things were just so wrong and Eleanor’s mom clearly wasn’t going to take care of it.

    As for the music stuff–I think I’m too young/unhip to get the references so there is that.

  21. Shannon says:

    Just read this, poolside in.a day, and adored it. I loved being able to circle back and read the book club’s thoughts. I think I’ll reread it just to savor it. I was so terrified for Eleanor with Richie that I HAD to speed read it. The funny thing is that i was describing it to my husband and he was intrigued. I think it was the music and how it shares the anxt from.Park’s perspective too. My emo husband related all too well. ;)

  22. Shannon says:

    OH MA GOSH ~ I saw ELEANOR at the Seattle Science Center today. Park was Caucasian and a smidge too tall but otherwise it was them. I was nearly giddy over those two. My husband thought I had lost my every loving mind. Maybe he was right.

  23. Jeen-Marie says:

    I just wanted to put my .02 $ in…
    I finally got around to finish reading this because everyone here raved about the book. I have now realized 4 months later, the last quarter of the year isn’t good for me (work & family life) so I can expect to not finish anything during that time!
    However, I loved the book too!
    • I love the writing style- knowing how the book ended made me really focus on the story and how was the plot and details were going to make it happen.
    • I’m on the fence about the YA classification. Once upon a time when I worked in a bookstore, it was the booksellers that sold the book, no matter the genre. But today is a different time.
    I think, as a teenager, I would have enjoyed this book and understood some/most of the complex undertones. And maybe I’m fortunate, but the 10-12 yo’s I know now, will probably enjoy this book at the 15-16 age.
    • Do the kids today appreciate the nuances of the music mentioned in the book?
    I think the music choices are a major factor of me liking the book.
    But if you don’t know The Smiths, The Cure and Skinny Puppy- does the book translate as well?
    One reader/commenter- not so much.
    • Not sure how I feel about a sequel set in the future.
    I think I have to warm up to that idea…

    And also for the record Jules, your book club has picked and read books that have turned into some of my favorite reads. Keep up the great work! I belong to a regular book club and their book choices have been dreadful!
    Thanks for being awesome and having awesome readers!

  24. Stefanie says:

    I just started (finally!) reading Eleanor & Park a few days ago and couldn’t resist coming here to say thank you for the suggestion. I haven’t finished yet, so I’m skimming these comments carefully to avoid spoilers. I’m hopelessly in love with the book so far. The scene where they first hold hands — I couldn’t even breath! It’s so beautiful.
    When I really love a book I find myself getting attached and actually missing the characters once I’m done.. I can already feel that coming. I almost don’t want to keep reading because I don’t want it to be over.

  25. Nahle says:

    Im A 20yr old dude who is having trouble finishing the book because its too adorable,
    because i still remember being in love when i was 15 turning 16 , first love .

    my heart kenot take too much cuteness *rolls in bed pillow covering face*

  26. NE says:

    Spot on with this write-up, I really think this amazing site needs a lot more attention. I’ll probably be back again to
    see more, thanks for the information!

Leave A Comment

Hi! I’m Jules.

I used to be an attorney, but it made me grumpy. Now I write about life, sweet and savory, as a wife and mother to two small boys. My knowledge of dinosaurs knows no bounds.

You can read more, including the meaning behind the name Pancakes and French Fries here. And, yes, I really am phenomenally indecisive.