Eleanor and Park was harder to read than I thought it would be. I picked it up blithely thinking it was another YA romance :young love! misfits!TEEN LIFE. But it wasn’t as easy on the emotions as that. I thought that one of them would feel self conscious a la Bella of something bland and forgettable and perhaps they would both maybe make statements about the painful awkwardness of adolescence and the perils of not fitting in with the better looking, well off crowd. But. Eleanor is living with her mum, a house full of siblings, and her mother’s new husband, who is a drunken creep. The whole book I was sitting at the edge waiting for Richie to abuse Eleanor. I had to keep skipping ahead to reassure myself that it wasn’t going to happen. Girl does meet boy when Eleanor meets Park who in her words is a “stupid, perfect Asian boy”. He has a secure, breathtakingly normal life. Happy mom, happy dad, annoying younger sibling. Rowell reveals how the things such a life takes for granted or can be nonchalant about can be the stuff of paradise in the same neighborhood. Eleanor doesn’t tell Park stuff like she doesn’t have shampoo and just uses what she can get, like dishwashing liquid, or has no clothes of her own.Which is why she wears cast off men’s clothing. With astonishing clarity Rowell articulates Eleanor’s fear that when Park knows the factual details of Eleanor’s life he won’t see her as an enigmatic, self appointed individualist- he would see her life to be as bleak as it is. Eleanor slowly trusts Park with the details of her life , and Park finds out for himself his capacity to love another person through the bleakest events of her existance, and to look past mundane concerns like weight. Eleanor, in her turn, discovers how love confers a sense of intact, inviolable identity and personhood on both people in the relationship, and slowly finds it impossible to feel self conscious about her body around Park.
It’s a pretty great love story, Eleanor’s vulnerability, the vulnerability of children and teens in the hands of adults isn’t something you can forget easily. I’m sounding sentimental I guess, but the book leaves you kind of thankful for all the things that go right for yourself, and the things you take for granted.