I obviously bought this novel by the equally-wonderfully-named Rainbow Rowell because of its awesome title. (My name’s Eleanor and, um, I like parks.)
So, of course, I had high hopes. But then it took a bit of getting into for me. Some of this was due to all the cultural references, even though they are mostly ones I love myself – The Smiths, The Cure, Hüsker Du. I began to fear I might be getting back into (500 Days of) Summer territory – that horrible feeling of knowing that I am the target market for something that I am really not enjoying, twee Morrissey references and all.
Then something started to change. And, actually, that started to feel sort of appropriate. Eleanor and Park meet on a school bus in Omaha in 1986, and it is not love at first sight. The fact that they are both interesting and brilliant and made for each other sneaks up on them over a bit of time, until they become the most important thing in each other’s lives.
That’s what this book was like for me. I went from mild annoyance to indifference to total immersion over the space of a few chapters – and after that I was hooked. I read it until late into the night and then skipped lunch in order to read more. Now that I have finished it, I kind of miss it. I especially miss Park, who I think I may be slightly in love with. You know, despite him being a fictional 16-year-old.
You don’t need to know much more than this. Except that it’s not just a fluffy teenage love story. There are some serious issues, some heart-thumping drama and a lot of tears along the way. It genuinely brings back a lot of the stomach-hurt feelings of being that age, the best and the worst.
Above all, I’d say that’s what this book is: almost uncomfortably authentic. From true love to very serious family issues, to the brain-shattering chemical high of just holding the right person’s hand for the first time, or even of hearing a life changing song. It’s a physical, visceral experience, reading this book – like muscle memory, if you’ve been through any of it yourself (luckily I haven’t been through all of it, but it all rings true).
Both Eleanor and Park are beautiful characters. Especially Park. Oh, Park. And especially Eleanor – poor, cool, clever, damaged Eleanor. I thought my heart would break for them at times.
This is very much Eleanor and Park’s story, and quite rightly so. With this sort of book, a common criticism seems to be that the supporting characters suffer as a result – as if there’s not room for them. With this book, this is not the case – there are minor characters involved that are so perfect, I’ll remember them too. Park’s parents – who met in Korea and still kiss each other on the mouth when they get home from work, whoever is watching – make me want to cry just to think about them. Mr Stessman, the adorably ambitious English teacher. Even Tina, the school bully, is very far from one-dimensional.
If I have one criticism, it is that there is not nearly enough of Eleanor and Park, either of them. I know I will reread this and it still just doesn’t feel like enough. I am a fan of the open-ended ending, and am certainly not someone who feels that every beloved book should have a sequel – but, Rainbow Rowell, please write a sequel to this! Please? Do it for Eleanor, and for Park.