Considering that I read this a few months ago, I’m not quite as late to the party as it looks, but I’m still rather late. As much as I enjoyed Attachments, and as much as I trusted everyone else’s recommendations, I was still a bit skeptical. I think this might be because almost every other piece of YA I’ve read is on the dystopian or fantasy side of things. How could a story about two teenagers in the ’80s be that exciting or groundbreaking?
I loved this YA novel about a couple of 16 year olds falling in love over comic books and music in mid-1980s Omaha. This novel has broad appeal — for teens because it deals with typical themes of angst, being misunderstood, dealing with obnoxious peers and parents who seem not to know you at all. For their parents, who were teens in the ’80s, it’s a wonderful trip back to the time when The Smiths were new music and The Watchmen was just coming out in weekly installments.
Eleanor is an unusual girl who stands out from the moment she gets on the bus. Her size (larger than other girls), her hair (long red curls) and her clothes (mens clothing accessorized with ribbons, patches and safety pins) make her an immediate target. No one will let her sit down and Park, who has been listening to his Walkman and trying not to get involved, is not eager to give up the empty spot next to him until the tension becomes all too much and he says to her, “Jesus-fuck … just sit down” and makes room. Not exactly an auspicious beginning to a romance. But as the weeks roll by, Park notices that as he reads his comics, Eleanor is reading them, too. Eventually, he has the nerve to speak with her, discuss and share music and comics with her and fall in love.
This sounds pretty blasé and mundane, but it isn’t for a few reasons. First, Eleanor’s home situation is rough. She has only just returned home after her step-father kicked her out for a year. Second, Eleanor and her family (mom, step-father and four other sibs) are poor. She doesn’t have a toothbrush, soap, proper food. etc. Third, Park is Korean-American in a very white all-American town. His father was a soldier and spent time in Korea, where he met and married his mother. Fourth, Park does not quite measure up to his father’s standards and he knows it. Finally, Park is on good terms with most of the cool kids at school, the complete opposite of Eleanor. Both Eleanor and Park feel that they have to hide their relationship, and for Eleanor in particular there is real danger in her parents’ discovering it.
The writing is so wonderful, I didn’t want to put this down until I had finished. Rowell can make you laugh and want to cry along with her protagonists. On Park’s quirkiness: “Park hated football. He cried when his dad took him pheasant hunting. Nobody in the neighborhood could ever tell who he was dressed as on Halloween. (‘I’m Doctor Who.’ ‘I’m Harpo Marx.’ ‘I’m Count Floyd.’)” Eleanor’s impression of Park’s car: “The Impala might not look pervy on the outside … but the inside was a different story. The front seat was almost as big as Eleanor’s bed, and the backseat was an Erica Jong novel just waiting to happen.” My favorite scene involves Park and his mother on Christmas Eve, after they’ve seen Eleanor and her family at the supermarket. Park’s mother had thought of Eleanor as a weird white girl and wasn’t pleased that Park was bringing her home after school. After seeing that Eleanor’s family is large and poor, like her own family had been, she tells Park, “I’m sorry for how I welcomed your Eleanor.”
This is a really wonderful novel not just for teens but for anyone who went to high school and fell in love, and for anyone who was young in the 1980s. And now I really wish I could find my old mix tapes!
In the past few weeks, I’ve read her two novels (I recently raved about the divine Attachments), and both have left me wanting more. MORE. MORE!
Like Attachments, Eleanor & Park takes place in Nebraska. While Attachments took place mainly in 1999, this book takes place in 1986, the era of the Smiths and the Cure and all of that other wonderful music I listened to in high school (I’m guessing Rainbow and I are around the same age).
Eleanor is a new student at Park’s school, and she sticks out like a sore thumb. Bigger than the other girls (convinced she’s fat, but I’m not so sure), with bright red unruly hair, and a fashion sense designed to take notice away from her torn and old thrift store clothes (and her thrift store clothes aren’t because she thinks they are cool, its all her family can afford). She’s got a tough life at home: 5 kids in one bedroom, a drunk and violent stepfather, and a mother that is afraid to step up for her daughter. Eleanor was kicked out of the house last year, and is only just returning to her family, just to find that its worse than when she was there before.
The scenes in her house really, really bummed me out.
Meanwhile, Park is her new seat-mate on the school bus. Half-Korean and totally punk rock, Park initially has no idea what to make of Eleanor. But slowly and surely, he finds that they have much in common.
They start sharing comics (their bonding over The Watchmen was truly a beautiful thing), and Park makes her tapes of music that he thinks she’ll like. Smiths, The Cure, Echo & the Bunnymen. And Joy Division.
I loved the part of the book where they just talked about why they love Love Will Tear Us Apart. Heartbreaking and amazing.
Their relationship slowly builds until they can’t stand being apart. The need they have for each other overtakes everything else in their lives, and its lovely to read along and see their relationship progress.
But, because the book starts out at the end, we know that things aren’t going to end well for these two.
I wish I could have stayed in the middle of this book for much longer. The beginning was great, and the ending was depressing. But the middle was simply perfect.
Favorite scene: It killed me when Park’s mom got tipsy on wine coolers and gave him an Avon Lady gift to give Eleanor for Christmas. The talk they had about her previous life and how it might be similar to Eleanor’s brought me to tears.
Thank you Rainbow Rowell. I can’t wait to read what you write next (Fangirl, out in September).
You can read more of my reviews on my blog.
The year is 1986. Park doesn’t fit in amongst the other kids in high school or in his own family. While both he and his brother are half Korean, you wouldn’t know it to look at his already taller younger brother. Park listens to Joy Division, The Smiths and The Cure, and reads comic books reverently. He feels like he can never quite measure up to the expectations of his very manly father. He’s not exactly popular, but he’s not a complete outcast either.
Not like the new girl, Eleanor, who is chubby, with bright red hair, and dresses in strange combinations of goodwill clothes. Quickly gaining nicknames like “Bozo” and “Big Red”, it’s clear that Eleanor won’t be winning any popularity contests, and Park isn’t thrilled when she ends up sitting next to him on the school bus, and keeps showing up in his honours’ classes. Slowly, but surely, a friendship blossoms, as Eleanor starts reading Park’s comic books over his shoulder. Soon Park is silently lending her comics, and this leads to conversations, and further topics of conversations and mix tapes and soon, Park and Eleanor live for the moments when they see each other again on the bus or in class.