Eleanor and Park gets filed under: Books I wish I wrote. It is easily a new favorite. It won a Printz honor award, and I boldly declared on some social media site that it should have won, admitting I hadn’t read the others. I’ve read another of the honor books, which I’ll review soon. I did love the other one, Maggot Moon, but Eleanor and Park still holds a special place in my heart.
I picked up Eleanor and Park in a local bookstore in Frankfort, Michigan, in the summer of 2013. It was in the window display. Since I have an Eleanor, I immediately scanned the jacket and became even more interested in the story, and of course, I was excited to see that it was YA fiction.
What captured me was the characterizations. Eleanor was insecure and somehow it didn’t annoy me. The awkward truths that bubbled out of her were remarkable yet simply stated. Park was equally awkward, but his earnestness was endearing. Rainbow Rowell took wonderful care in delicately and indelicately building Eleanor’s and Park’s relationship with each other, reminding us exactly what it’s like to fall in love for the first time when you feel like the worst version of yourself. I loved following them through their wonderful terrible days. Rowell gives a nod to Shakespeare as Eleanor and Park discuss Romeo and Juliet in class and hits us clearly on the head that this is–at its heart–the same story. Just look at the cover, and it’s clear that Eleanor is our Romeo and Park our Juliet. Park wears the eye liner in the relationship and Juliet remarks more than once that “Park is the sun.”
Now, here’s where I admit that my own Eleanor had to point out to me that Park was Juliet, noting the references to Park as the sun. Eleanor is a far more insightful reader than me, and this is the book where I learned that. It was one my favorite moments with my daughter, ever. Rainbow Rowell, if you somehow ever see this, thanks. You not only touched me and my daughter with your wonderful book, you gave us a connection through it.
But back to the book, our Romeo and Juliet here have an expectedly sad ending, but there are sparks of hope for them as individuals that make the story perfect for young adults looking to understand what it means to be an individual, looking for love, and trying to navigate the nuances of happy and sad, ugly and pretty, good and bad, permanent and transient, comfort and hurt.
Rainbow Rowell gets bonus points for the gym suit scene. It is my all-time favorite scene in a book, ever. It is perfection. And I’ve recently learned that the movie rights were sold on this book, so they better not screw up that scene! Hell, I may not even watch the movie; the book was so raw and rich and perfect. However, it does help to know Rainbow has been asked to write the screenplay. If you haven’t read this one, you most definitely want to before the movie hits the screen!