Welcome to “I AM READING THIS SO HARD RIGHT NOW”, where I blather on about books I’m loving. I don’t do summaries, so don’t come looking for ’em. But, before I get started:
I am pretty dedicated to not including any spoilers in my half-assed reviews (I should really call them reflections instead of reviews), but this book is super special. I won’t intentionally spoil anything, but if I accidentally reveal something that would curb your enjoyment of this marvelous book, I’d never forgive myself. So, if you want to U-Turn on out of here until you read Eleanor & Park, no hard feelings. Come on back after you read it. Trust me, you want to read this. I don’t care if you don’t like YA fiction. Read it.
I just finished reading Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. Like, just minutes ago. It was a reluctant finish on my behalf: I didn’t want it to be over. But I plowed through the last pages anyway. It triggered so many high school memories, many of them extremely, gut-wrenchingly unpleasant, yet I kept coming back for more. I’d read a paragraph or two and it would set off a chain reaction of past experiences in my head. This book is not about me, but it all felt so very personal. So it’s a little about me. And it might be a little about you.
I haven’t read too many reviews on Eleanor & Park and I won’t until I’m done writing this. I have such strong feelings about this book and I’m afraid that outside views will taint or dilute or mutate my associations (for all I know, I’m writing exactly what reviewers have been saying about this book all along). What I have read touts this book as a romance, like the blurb by Gayle Forman on the front cover: “This sexy, smart, tender romance thrums with punk rock and true love.” And that’s not wrong or even misleading. It is so beautiful and often incredibly tender.
But this is also an abuse story.
If you are a victim or have been a witness to abuse, I’m not saying don’t read Eleanor & Park. I am saying: read it in a safe place. You know where that is for you. It could be surrounded by people that you trust. It could be all alone. It would be on a crowded train. I can’t promise that it will have the same effect on you as it did on me. I will say that I wasn’t offended or even disturbed. I think the most offensive representations of abuse in fiction are the ones that are sensationalized. These aren’t.
I’ve heard books compared to rich, chocolate cake before (meaning: intense and potent, not something you gobble down in one bite/read in one sitting) and somehow the analogy squicks me out. But I feel like it’s an apt comparison for this book. I found myself mulling over every word and page. It’s not written elaborately, but its delivery sent my mind reeling ever couple of pages.
I don’t know if I wanted to throttle Eleanor because I disagreed with the choices that she made or because I know that I would have made the same ones. Sometimes the most frustrating characters are the ones most like yourself. So much of Eleanor’s life echoed parts of mine (and maybe parts of yours?):
- The hiding of possessions. Especially the special ones. Especially the ones that give you comfort.
- Coming home to find said possessions destroyed or discarded.
- Fearing love because you feel that you’re not deserving of it (yes. This is a cliché. Doesn’t mean that it’s not based in truth).
- Living in absolute silence, as if any sound at all will open the floodgates.
- “Park held her hand the whole night, like he was her boyfriend. Because he is your boyfriend, dummy, she kept telling herself.
Much to the dismay of the girl working at the record store. She had eight holes in each each, and she clearly thought Park was a whole closet full of cat’s pajamas. The girl looked at Eleanor like, Are you kidding me? And Eleanor looked back like, I know, right?” (p. 269).
Do you know how many “What the hell is he doing with you?”-looks I get? Damn, I still get them. Suffer, pretty ladies. Sometimes us beasts get the beauties, too.
- Wondering why the careless and reckless actions of another (being the abuser) has to destroy your life.
- Learning that just an hour of simple hand holding can make you feel safer than anything ever did.
- Not liking any kind of music with too much yelling and screaming. You’ve heard enough angry ranting in person and, frankly, you’ve had enough: “There are a couple of songs you might like, ballady stuff. But the rest is really fast.”
“Like punk?” She wrinkled her nose. She could stand a few Dead Milkmen songs, but other than that, she hated Park’s punk music. “I feel like they’re yelling at me,” she’d say when he tried to put punk on her mixed tapes. “Stop yelling at me, Glenn Danzig!”
“That’s Henry Rollins.”
“They all sound the same when they’re yelling at me.” (p. 230).
- Finding comfort in other people’s families. Building your own families. Building your own support systems.
I am so thankful that Roswell didn’t let Eleanor fall into the manic-pixie-dreamgirl trope. Before I realized that this novel wasn’t going to employ stock-characters, I was petrified that Eleanor was going to be quirky-girled into oblivion, removing any true need for her character other than to serve as a catalyst for Park’s life-awakening. Granted, Eleanor would be the cranky, sometimes cold, emotionally damaged version, but MPDGs come in lots of flavors. Have no fear, readers. Eleanor is here as much for herself as she is for Park. More so, even.
I realize that all of this comes across as a little vague and convoluted, but I wanted to find a way to talk about how important this book is. It’s a love story and more. It’s the love story for people who’ve never been loved. Sometimes abuse victims are just yearning for someone to bear witness to their struggles. Maybe that wasn’t Roswell’s intention, but it appeared that way nonetheless. Eleanor and Park tore my heart out of my chest over and over again. But it felt fine, like I could handle it. It felt like I needed it. Thank you, Rainbow Roswell.
~Love and Libraries, Ingrid