Last year, Rainbow Rowell made waves in the book club – several of my bookish friends were successively reading her books, giving them stellar ratings and, effectively, recommending them. I didn’t join the bandwagon right away despite recommendations for her book Attachments because (1) I didn’t know who Rainbow Rowell was at the time and (2) I had too much on reading plate for the year already, and I had my priorities.
And then a bookish friend reads Eleanor & Park and says something on Twitter about enjoying the book. Another time, I recall reading the tweet of a bookish acquaintance where she declared that she and that book - this book - are “married.”
Boy, was I sold. I thought, maybe it was high time I gave Rainbow Rowell a try. So I did.
Eleanor and Park are two diametrically-opposed high school students whose young lives drastically change when, one day on the school bus, chubby new kid Eleanor finds herself seated beside half-American, half-Korean comic book-reading dude Park. Park doesn't have that invisible "L" sign on his forehead but he isn't exactly all that popular either, so at first, he was wary of having the slightest associations with Eleanor. Later on, however, circumstances force them together, and they eventually realize, over shared comic books and music tapes, that their houses are not the only thing they have in proximity. And when Eleanor's domestic situation goes from bad to worse, Park knew he had to do something for Eleanor - even if it meant heartbreak.
This book was a pleasant surprise. I thought it would be one of those typical young adult romances with the typical plot (boy meets girl, they get together, they have a misunderstanding, they make up) and typical, formulaic teenage characters in them, but it wasn't. For the first time, I read about a teenage romance that involved a chubby, redheaded girl and a nerdy half-Asian guy - definitely not your usual match, no, but it was this deviation from the usual characterization that made the story work. It was a welcome and fresh change from the usual romance fares, and I enjoyed it very much.
What I loved most about Eleanor & Park is that it had all the right feels without being too cheesy. I loved how the protagonists are so different and so non-conformist, but they were still able to deliver all the requisite feels and fluff and fuzz.
There's only one of him, she thought, and he's right here.
He knows I'll like a song before I've heard it. He laughs before I even get to the punch line. There's a place on his chest, just before his throat, that makes me want to let him open doors for me.
There's only one of him.
Ah, young love. The exhilaration and the giddiness and the feeling of constantly floating, walking on air.
If he were to look up at her now, he'd know exactly how stupid she was. She could feel her face go soft and gummy. If Park were to look up at her now, he'd know everything.
He didn't look up. He wound the scarf around his fingers until her hand was hanging in the space between them.
Then he slid the silk and his fingers into her open palm.
And Eleanor disintegrated.
The short chapters and interchanging points of view between Eleanor and Park added to the readability and appeal of this book, and it also allowed the reader to witness the progress and development of their relationship - from strangers to barely-acquaintances to bus seatmates to friends and eventually, to more-than-just-friends. It was so endearing to read how Eleanor saw Park, and vice versa; their stories were laid out in a way that you couldn't help but root for them every step of the way. And while the ending was, well, that kind of an ending, I don't think I could have picked a better one for their story. It conformed to reality, it was reasonable, and it allowed the reader to explore the realm of possibilities that lay ahead for them.
So am I reading more Rainbow Rowell this year? Definitely.
Book details: Kindle edition