Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
I picked up this teen book because I had just finished A Time to Kill and needed something lighter to read. Plus I have seen this book EVERYWHERE and decided to give it a whirl.
This book takes place in the 80's in a high school. Eleanor just moved to the area and has started school late in the year, after all the other students. She has to take the bus and make the dreaded walk down the aisle in an attempt to find a seat. Being very red headed, slightly overweight, and dressing like a man, she gets a lot of taunts and snickers. She finally sees an open spot next to an Asian kid with headphones.
Park is an Asian kid who loves to listen to music. While not at all popular, Park manages to get through the day with out being tormented by the popular kids, as long as he keeps his head low. He does this very well, until the day he let that weird red headed girl sit next to him on the bus.
Eleanor and Park have a silent relationship for the first month or so. They start by ignoring each other on the bus until the day Park figures out that Eleanor is reading his comics over his shoulder. He starts holding the comic in such a way that she can read and taking his time. Then he starts leaving comics for her to take home. Before long the two are talking, each of them looking forward to it.
We soon learn that Eleanor's parents are divorced. Her father is all but absent and she lives with her mother, siblings, and step-father, Richie. Richie is an abusive drunk and Eleanor hates him. After getting into a huge fight one day, Richie kicked Eleanor out. What started out as a few days, turned into a year. When Eleanor finally was able to return home, things had only gotten worse. Now her siblings were calling Richie "dad" and excusing his bad behavior. Their living conditions had deteriorated past the level of acceptable. She was miserable at home and at school, being tormented by a girl named Tina. Park soon becomes the one bright spot in her life.
Park's parents are still together and loving and caring. While reluctant at first, they soon realize that Elanor needs a safe place to be and accept Eleanor into their home each evening. Park struggles with his own relationship with his parents and his place in school. He is torn between keeping his head low to avoid ridicule, and being himself despite what others think.
This story is great for teens because of the two contrasting kids in the book. Park represents the average struggles of a teenager. His home life is "normal" in that his parents and still married and love him. All his basic needs are met, plus some. But Park struggles with his relationship with his father. While saying that his father doesn't like him and only loves him because he has to, the reality seems to be that Park's father struggles to understand the teenager who is searching for himself. His father isn't sure how to relate anymore; a truth many parents go through with teenagers. Park also struggles with his identity at school. Having once been friends with the popular kids in elementary school, they tend to leave him alone and not pick on him. Park wants to keep it this way and struggles when dating Eleanor threatens to put him in the war path.
Eleanor on the other had has a more extreme situation. She is ruthlessly picked on at school by Tina and her friends. But that is nothing compared to her home life. Her mother is a stay at home mom and Richie is the provider. He doesn't leave enough money for the kids to eat very well, if at all. Eleanor lacks basic essentials like a toothbrush. She sleeps in a tiny room with all her siblings. They often wake up to Richie drunk and screaming, sometimes beating their mother. Eleanor worries one day her mother will end up dead. She is torn between wanting to escape and run and feeling the need to stay behind and protect her siblings.
This story of high school traumas is told through the story of Eleanor and Parks' relationship. Honestly, I found their relationship very high school, which may have been the authors intent (I am not sure). While being "hopelessly" in love, they seem to know very little about each others lives. I looked at their relationship, not as a long-lasting, together forever type of relationship, but rather a relationship that helps both of them get through the traumatic years of high school. They needed each other. Eleanor needed to feel safe and learn to trust. Park needed to learn to stick up for himself and be himself, despite what others may think.
I really would like my niece to read this. She is middle school, about to enter high school. This is a great novel about surviving high school and coming out the other end better.
I did only rate this a 3 because frankly the teenage romance was a little much for me. Its hard to believe they are so deep in love but barely even communicate or see each other. I felt they were more in love with the idea of love than the reality of each other.