He didn’t look up. He wound the scarf around his fingers until her hand was hanging in the space between them.
Then he slid the silk and his fingers into her open palm.
And Eleanor disintegrated.
Holding Eleanor’s hand was like holding a butterfly. Or a heartbeat. Like holding something complete, and completely alive.
As soon as he touched her, he wondered how he’d gone this long without doing it. He rubbed his thumb through her palm and up her fingers, and was aware of her every breath.
Eleanor occupies the only empty seat on the bus, the one right next to Park. And as much as he doesn’t want to talk to her and risk the wrath of the kids at the back of the bus, he notices her reading his comic books…so he opens them wider and positions them so she can read them more easily. And then there’s a moment when everything changes, and Rowell captures that sweet but completely painful feeling of a first love.
When I first read the passage above, after a slow buildup like you wouldn’t imagine, I disintegrated. I was instantly brought back to my first hand holding, on a school bus, on the way back from a band trip. Like the Cool Water cologne the guy wore that can instantly transport me to the nervous, exhilarated, alive 15-year-old I was, Eleanor & Park made me remember that moment with endearment and nostalgia.
Everything matters in high school, to high schoolers. Each moment is a first or a last, and Rainbow Rowell depicts the intensity of these moments with vibrancy and beauty. Eleanor is the new girl at a new school. She sticks out badly in her Goodwill jeans and sneakers and considers asking her school counselor for a toothbrush. The only thing holding her back is the imminent call to CPS. Plus, she’s overweight with bright red hair. And home sucks. Her mother’s husband – she refuses to acknowledge him as any relation to her – sets her on edge. She only showers or goes to the bathroom when he’s out or fast asleep, uncomfortable around him, mature yet unable to vocalize or fully articulate exactly why he upsets her so completely. The threat of harm hums, and Rowell doesn’t shy away from the quiet terror of an abusive home. Then Eleanor goes to school where she gets picked on, but really, that’s the least of her worries.
Park, on the other hand, comes from a loving home and parents who are fierce in their love and belief in their son. He may screw up, but even as Park and his dad struggle to understand one another, there is never a doubt that this is a father who supports his son. Sure, Park has problems, such as being the only part Korean kid at school, but his parents kissing in front of him is the biggest issue he deals with at home. And he finds himself inextricably drawn to Eleanor. He isn’t necessarily attracted to her, but she does fascinate him. She wears crazy accessories – a necktie around her ponytail, gaudy hairpieces – and he wonders why she’d want any extra attention, the death knell for a teen as different as Eleanor.
Set in the 80s, when a mixed tape could convey more than any love note, Rainbow Rowell writes a love story for the misfits, a story about the imperfect guys and gals, the kind who loved Star Trek and The Smiths, the type who weren’t blonde, thin, and perky but who loved just as hard and fast. And watching these two make their way toward one another, finding one another for the first time is, as John Green* said, “delicious.”
Add Eleanor & Park to your Goodreads shelf.
*I read this book the week it came out but haven’t blogged about it because I read John Green’s review and thought:Â That. That’s what I want to say.Â If you haven’t checked it out,Â head on over.