Isn’t it beautiful how falling in love, though one of the universal experiences of humanity, feels like the most special, unprecedented occurrence imaginable? It doesn’t matter that men and women have been falling in love since the beginning of time; when it happens to you, it’s so astonishing and precious and wonderful that it seems impossible that anyone else could ever have felt the same way.
Rowell’s ability to convey this specialness is the key to Eleanor & Park’s success. I didn’t think I would like this book – the blurb above didn’t appeal to me at all – but once I started reading I was stunned by how perfectly Rowell captures the giddy, breathless excitement of first love and the amazement and gratitude that comes with finding the person who appreciates everything about you.
The characters’ thoughts, words, and actions ring so true that I found myself swept away by memories of my own first love. A few sections in particular made me laugh out loud in delight because they were so spot-on. Here are a few examples:
“One of his eyes was swollen shut, and his nose was thick and purple. It made her want to cry. And to kiss him. (Because apparently everything made her want to kiss him. Park could tell her that he had lice and leprosy and parasitic worms living in his mouth, and she would still put on fresh ChapStick. God.)”
“Thinking about going out with Park, in public, was kind of like thinking about taking your helmet off in space.”
Rowell gets it. She really does!
The romance in Eleanor & Park is sweet and lovely and tender, but not everything in this book is sunshine and dandelion fluff. Eleanor and Park are perfect for one another, but circumstance, parents, teachers, and classmates make their relationship harder than seems fair. Park and Eleanor both have major obstacles to overcome, ranging from bullying to poverty to the need for parental approval and acceptance. Just because it’s easy for them to love one another doesn’t mean it’s easy for them to be in love, and the distinction is very important.
A novel about the joys and challenges of young love is nothing you haven’t already seen a thousand times, but Rowell has a way of making the story feel fresh and bright and new. It’s like slogging down the road at the end of a long, gray, nasty winter and suddenly noticing the green tips of crocuses and tulips poking through the slush. It’s not the first time you’ve seen this happen – spring flowers come up every year – but the sight still lightens your heart and puts a spring in your step. Reading Eleanor & Park is the same kind of experience.