I think I’m running out of things to say about Rainbow Rowell’s books, I absolutely adored ‘Fangirl’ and ‘Landline’, then I read ‘Eleanor & Park’, and fell in love with it. Rainbow’s ability to make you relate to and fall hopelessly in love with her characters is amazing, because yet again, I was rooting for Eleanor and Park. The story gripped me from the beginning, it was so different from anything I’d read before. And I loved that.
The story is told from two view points, Eleanor and Park, they meet on the school bus and their friendship blossoms into something deeper. At first, Park doesn’t like Eleanor, or at least, just doesn’t feel anything. She’s the new girl and immediately, through no fault of her own attracts attention to herself, by her red hair and choice of clothes (though we later realise that’s not her fault). She comes from a troubled background, her father isn’t in the picture and she lives with her brothers and sisters, with their mother, who is a relationship with an awful, abusive man.
The reader is let into Eleanor’s life slowly, much like she lets Park into her world. We see that at home, all the children sleep in one room and have to use the bathroom, when Eleanor’s mother’s husband, Ritchie, isn’t home. He hates it when the children cry or make a mess, so they have to make sure they’re all tucked away before he gets home. He’s an alcoholic and abuses Eleanor’s mother. The family aren’t allowed to have a life outside of Ritchie, her mother has lost contact with all her friends and Eleanor has to make excuses to see Park, saying that she’s going to see Tina instead, the girl who bullies her.
Park’s life contrasts with Eleanor’s quite drastically. He doesn’t have a perfect life, his relationship with his father is strained and his mother wants the best for him, but in doing so, smothers him too much. When he meets Eleanor, they become friends through the comics he reads and then through the music he listens to – he lets her borrow his comics and his cassettes. In doing so, they’re able to discuss their favourite songs and the comics and characters they like. Park starts to fall for Eleanor, as she does for him. In doing so, we see more into Park’s family life; his mother is originally from Korea and his father a soldier. His father is a man who expects a lot from Park and seems to be disappointed in him a lot of the time. Park feels like he needs to make his mother and father happy, sacrificing his own happiness.
But when he meets Eleanor that changes, they begin a slow friendship, which transitions into a relationship. Park is able to make her feel happy and loved, while Eleanor makes Park feel the same, everything is louder and brighter with her. Park’s relationship with his father is still strained and when he can’t do the things his dad wants him to, drive for example, his dad lashes out. As Eleanor’s and Park’s relationship develops, Park starts to come out of his shell and fights with Steve, Tina’s boyfriend, because they were being horrible to Eleanor.
The two start to hold hands more, to talk more and discuss things – like how they feel about each other, where they think this will go, and Eleanor opens up about her stepfather. At first she is reluctant to tell him, thinking Park will run away, but he doesn’t. He introduces her to his family and his mother, at first, doesn’t like Eleanor, because she’s not ‘pretty’, and ‘sweet’ – she’s weird and cries at Park’s house, which immediately makes their meeting awkward. But as time moves on, his family become accustomed to Eleanor, they start to like her and genuinely care for her.
Park makes Eleanor feel better about herself, she doesn’t feel as low and alone. He kisses her and holds her, like she’s hung the moon and she loves that. She spends as much time as she can at his place, and they sit together on the bus, they still talk about comics and music, but now, their relationship is more about them, it’s more about how they feel about each other, how he loves her, how she feels about him, and in doing so, she can tell him about her mother, her family, Ritchie, how she ran away.
It’s a sweet book that makes you want to cry and laugh at the same time. As Eleanor’s home life gets worse, she knows that Park will slip away from her, because she’ll have to push him away, to protect him. She struggles with her mother, feeling like she doesn’t do anything about Ritchie, how their lives have been ripped apart. She struggles with her relationship with her father and how he never wants to see them, and when he does, it’s only short. But with Park, all of that seems to go away. She even lets Park’s mother do her makeup, they go out together, on a date and spend as much time as they can together, away from Eleanor’s home life.
Everything just seems to get worse for Eleanor though, at school the bullies still attack her and at home Ritchie beats her mother and threatens to do the same to Eleanor. And then one day, after Eleanor’s and Park’s date, she comes home and her mother is crying, Ritchie is screaming and Eleanor’s comics and music tapes are all over the place. She realises then, that the bullies at school, who have been writing messages on her books, are from Ritchie. And then she runs.
Tina and Steve pull her to safety, weirdly enough and then Park is there. The ending of this book is so bittersweet, he helps her escape and drives her to her uncle’s where she then goes to live. On the way, their relationship is strained, she doesn’t think they can make it, but he does. He wants to be with her and she keeps trying to savour the moment, like she’ll never see him again. She’s finally free from her toxic household but she knows she won’t have Park with her, at her new school. Their last night together, is full of hushed words and Park saying that they’d be okay, her kissing him and worrying that this was it, that they’d just stop.
And they do. For a while, she appears to push him away and doesn’t return his letters or postcards. Park breaks down and spends most of his time at school and in his room. He wants so badly to speak to her, for her to reach out for him. To be honest, I don’t know why she didn’t, she could’ve but I understand the anxiety and fear she felt, would he leave her and move on? Would things be different now?
They’re not, or at least that’s what we all hope. She sends him a postcard in the end. We don’t know for sure what the three words are on the postcard, but I’d like to believe that they were, “I love you”, or, “I’m still yours”. I have hope for them. I hope you do too.