Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Published: February 2013
Genre: young adult
Eleanor… Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough…Eleanor.
Park… He knows she’ll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punch line. There’s a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises…Park.
Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.
Eleanor knows she’s odd. She’s not only the new girl in school, but she stands out with her wild clothes, messy red curls, and heavier build. It doesn’t matter that she’s quiet and intelligent and keeps to herself — somehow, someway, kids pick on her from the moment she steps onto the school bus. Park, a comics-and-music aficionado, pities her for others’ cruelty, and tells her to sit with him on these torturous bus rides. Little do they know they’ll become more than bench partners, more than friends who swap mix tapes and share comics, more than a boy and a girl who glance shyly at one another. But not all good things can last, and Eleanor, trapped in an abusive household, attempts to make Park understand that love can’t be forever.
I don’t know why I waited so long to read this. It was like my fear of reading Fangirl, that it would hit too close to home, or it would break my heart too deeply, or that I’d crumble to pieces. I didn’t know how I could read about these two misfits and their tough battles and still find enjoyment in this book, in all its pain. But I love Rowell’s writing. And I had to trust all those authors on the back of the book that I admire (John Green, Gayle Forman, Stephanie Perkins) that this book was worth it.
And I’m so glad I read it.
Eleanor finds a home in Park. Park finds love and belonging in Eleanor. Eleanor’s home life is a scary, abusive one. Park’s is filled with comfort and a touch of masculine expectation. Though both misfits — her for her appearance and he for his half-Korean background — their experiences and insecurities and emotions are infinitely universal. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, the first time you fall in love is the same as a stranger’s. One morning you wake up and realize that you’re into someone — you look forward to seeing them, you want to know everything about them, you want to hear their opinions. You want to lift them out of their doubts and fears, you want to defend them with your life, you want to share in the joy and laughter. Eleanor and Park are beyond confused about why the other is in love — they each cannot see beyond their own insecurities — but they grab hold and clutch to it like their lives depend on it.
And it’s so beautifully done. While the ending is left a teensy bit open, there’s enough clarification that there’s a possibility for a happy ending. Or, if not a happy ending, then one of positive closure. Neither character is perfect, which makes me love them more.
What else am I supposed to say? If you haven’t read this yet, do so now.