Set in the 80s, sixteen year olds, Eleanor and Park can’t seem to get enough of one another but definitely GET one another like no one else. A modern day Romeo and Juliet without the horrific ending. Written in an alternating POV between Eleanor and Park, I couldn’t put it down.
Bono met his wife in high school,” Park says. “So did Jerry Lee Lewis,” Eleanor answers. “I’m not kidding,” he says. “You should be,” she says, “we’re sixteen.” “What about Romeo and Juliet?” “Shallow, confused,” then dead. “I love you, Park says. “Wherefore art thou,” Eleanor answers. “I’m not kidding,” he says. “You should be.”
Rainbow Rowell does such a magnificent job of creating characters you can identify with. Even if you haven’t experienced their lives exactly, you understand and feel what they go through. You find yourself rooting for them as they navigate the uncertainty of adolescence. Her richly created sub characters are the best supporting cast whom you either love or hate. The dialogue is witty, intelligent, passionate, snarky and heartfelt.
Park: “You just seem to like yourself, no matter what’s happening around you. My grandmother would say you’re comfortable in your own skin” Eleanor: “I’m stuck in my own skin.”
“Park tried to remember the first time he saw her. Because he could remember, on that day, seeing what everybody else saw. He could remember thinking that she was asking for it…That it was bad enough to have a million freckles and chubby baby cheeks…Did she have to dress like that? And act like that? Did she have to try so hard to be different? He remembered feeling embarrassed for her. And now…Now, he felt the fight rising up in his throat whenever he though of people making fun of her…it made him feel like Bill Bixby just before he turned into the Hulk.”
Their progressive relationship from friendship to love have all the spectacular 80s references: walkmans, The Smiths, U2, Echo & The Bunnymen, Joy Division, mix tapes, cabbage patch dolls, Sixteen Candle-esque bus rides, Chuck Taylors, and the numerous 80s TV sitcoms….to name a few. The music references for me really set the tone. All of the songs mentioned expressed the mood and feeling of what Eleanor and Park were going through but for me Bad by U2 was poignant. “I’m wide awake”
And the make you stop and ponder quotes? I could be here ALL day!
“‘I’m sorry about yesterday’, she said. He hung on his straps and shrugged. ‘Yesterday happens.'”
“For the rest of the day, whenever Eleanor felt nervous or scared, she told herself to be happy instead. (It didn’t really make her feel better, but it kept her from feeling worse…)”
My favorite about the power of music: “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 thought it was. And that was a good thing. That was the greatest thing.”
Their story also has heartache. Park feeling like an outcast for being one of the only bi-racial kids at school, not living up to his Dad’s standards, befriending Eleanor. Eleanor is the easy prey of bullying for being the new kid who dresses weird and comes from a very poor and dysfunctional family. Somehow, though, they manage to take all the hurling insults and stressors of being a teen on the chin. Especially since they have each other.
This story struck a nerve with me. My parents divorced when I was 15 and then we moved to a new area for my junior and senior year of high school. It’s always challenging being the “new kid”. Especially when you are 16/17 and all the people you meet have been friends since they were 5. You can be the mysterious newcomer but typically an immediate no one. I wish I had someone like Park at that time in my life to take a chance on me and see beyond the “different”. I think this story will reach many kids who struggle to find their “niche” in school and adolescence. But also to those kids who can reach out and give someone a chance.
The ending?! Why did it have to end? I want more!! But don’t worry, it does have what some call a HEA. At least you get to create some type of epilogue in your mind. It’s your chance to be the writer.