In the past few weeks I have read wonderful books. I've reread a lot of old favorites to be more specific. I read The Great Gatsby, my forever favorite phenomenal classic. I reread The Catcher in the Rye, another old favorite that gets my mind racing. I reread Looking for Alaska, a book that made me who I am today. But I got sad looking at the list of books I've been reading this year. I'm 13 books into the 50 books challenge of 2013 and seven of those books have been rereads. I love rereading books and three of those rereads have been classics for a book club I'm in, so I don't feel much guilt, but I was missing the feeling of meeting and falling in love with new people and new places in books. I miss discovering new stories and new things, being inspired by new lines and turns of phrase.
So this time when I went to Barnes and Noble to get myself a birthday book (or two) (or eight), I aimed for something that I hoped would make me feel. I wanted something I had heard wonderful things about, but something I knew relatively little about. Then I saw this lovely little book cover staring up at me:
I thought it was so pretty and so delicate; a perfect springtime read. I was excited to see the love between these two bloom while watching the flowers bloom outside my bedroom window.
I read a review of this book that John Green wrote for the New York Times because, well, don't we all read everything John Green writes? The last line of his review says, "“Eleanor & Park” reminded me not just what it’s like to be young and in love with a girl, but also what it’s like to be young and in love with a book." That was what I was looking for. I scooped the book up and carried it on home.
The start of the book already wrenched at my heart.
"He'd stop trying to bring her back.
She only came back when she felt like it, in dreams and lies and broken-down deja vu.
Like, he'd be driving to work, and he'd se a girl with red hair standing on the corner- and he'd swear, for half a choking moment, that it was her."
Half a choking moment. Isn't that exactly what seeing someone you love after a long period of time unexpectedly? Like someone has briefly cinched their hands around your neck, making your eyes pop hopefully, wishing it was who you wanted it to be. I love description like this. This book is full of it.
Before I go on rambling about my love for descriptive writing, let's talk plot. At face value, this book seems a bit like any other YA first love novel. The cover flap focuses on the fact that Eleanor and Park are misfits "smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try."
Don't get me wrong, I love stories like this and I was excited to see how this one was different than the other teenage love stories I read. BOY was it different. Different, entirely unexpected, and utterly breathtaking.
Eleanor is the new girl in school, returning to Omaha after spending a year away from an abusive and dysfunctional family. She gets on her bus the first day, immediately branded the new school freak, given the nickname "Big Red" and is forced into sitting by Park, who she deems "that stupid Asian kid." (Young love, so beautiful, right?) What starts as awkward silent bus rides home leads to Eleanor reading comics over his shoulder, to reading them together, to holding hands, to needing each other constantly.
Eleanor has a horrible home life. This aspect of the book is what surprised me the most. I've read books where people have abusive families, but none like this. I always felt the claustrophobia Eleanor felt when she went home to the single bedroom shared between four siblings. I felt the fear of avoiding her psycho step dad. I felt her need to be with Park grow from needing him for an escape to needing him for love. She was a true heroine, freckles and all. I wasn't expecting how deep this book would go, or how deep it would crawl under my skin for that matter. But this book gave me characters and a plot I wouldn't forget. I miss Eleanor and Park like I miss friends.
Also. Eleanor and Park had a love that grew properly. I've read a lot of books that start with a boy seeing a girl, thinking she's SO HOT, having to be near her blah blah love blah. Or they are misfits who also happen to look like hipster rock gods who FOR SOME REASON aren't popular or picked on. Kinda like telling me that if Andrew Garfield went to my high school, I wouldn't want to jump his bones because he was a nerd with no parents. I'm sorry no. Anyone who looks like that = Instant popularity.
Eleanor and Park doesn't feel that way. I believe these two are misfits. I believe that they aren't the typical novel hot that teen books are champions of. These are true misfits who find each other by happy coincidence and mutual need for each other. Their disdain for each other was real, just as their love and need for each other was real.
The description remains so beautiful through every passing page. None of it feels forced or overly-flowery to the point of pretentious or over described like some books can be. The characters never seemed to smart for their own age, they seemed like 16 year olds who have flawless taste in music and comics who were in love.
The book was so funny in such a perfect sarcastic way. If you know me, you know I am the strongest supporter of sarcasm and sassy humor. I'll wager a guess that Rainbow Rowell is on that support committee with me. Her descriptions and writing, especially of Eleanor was so witty and clever, full of descriptions I have never seen in books before, WHICH I LOVE. Like when describing Eleanor's body in contract to her mother's body by saying:
"After five kids, her mother had breasts and hips like a woman in a cigarette ad. At sixteen, Eleanor was already built like she ran a medieval pub."
I read this... and died. Not only is that the most wonderful juxtaposition, but it was so funny and unique. The whole book is like this.
This book reminded me of what it felt like to feel the touch of someone you are just starting to like on your skin. The touch isn't familiar yet. You trust the touch, but you aren't used to it yet. It feels... new and gentle and dangerous and all you want is more of it on your skin. You want to climb inside of their hands and let them touch you forever. This book made me swoon for love. Like this paragraph that I read at two in the morning that made me shiver and tear up because it was just so perfect:
Like something had gone wrong beaming her onto the Starship Enterprise.
If you've ever wondered what that feels like, it's a lot like melting- but more violent.
Even in a million different pieces, Eleanor could still feel Park holding her hand. Could still feel his thumb exploring her palm. She sat completely still because she didn't have any other option. She tried to remember what kind of animals paralyzed their prey before they ate them.
Maybe Park paralyzed her with his ninja magic, his Vulcan handhold, and now he was going to eat her.
That would be awesome."
Ummm excuse me while I go die noe. I love this book. One more example of the flawless description before I shut up because it's my new favorite line of every book ever and also how I'm going to judge anyone I date ever again:
"You look like a protagonist." She was talking as fast as she could think. "You look like the person who wins in the end. You're so pretty, and so good. You have magic eyes," she whispered. "And you make me feel like a cannibal.""
A protagonist. A protagonist?! RAINBOW ROWELL YOU GENIUS. This killed me. You know when you read something and it just kills you? This killed me. My boy has to be a protagonist. I adore that.
In the end, this was the book I wanted and this was the book I needed. I fell in love right along with Park and Eleanor. This book is beautiful and subtle and delicate and lovely. I can't say enough about it. The only way I can describe this book is with a quote from the book itself:
""I just want to break that song into pieces," she said, "and love them all to death.""
I just want to break this book into pieces and love them all to death. Don't miss this book, everyone. Don't rob yourself of this.
Until next time (which I promise will be soon!) happy reading! I'd love to hear any recommendations you have for me, or your thoughts about anything I've read. Leave your comments below; I'd love to hear from you!