To steal a line: Jesus-f**k. This book just wrecked me.
I’d been hearing about this book for months. Mostly from Linda Holmes at NPR, and other places…on NPR. Before putting it onto my library queue, at least a hundred from the top, I didn’t even know what it was about. I just knew people were gushing about how terrific it was, so I wanted to read it because I’m always looking for a great new read. I surmised it was about a boy and a girl, and that it was some sort of coming-of-age tale, as YA novels about teens tend to be. That’s really about all I knew. I just heard that it was amazing over and over again, and I was convinced.
Honestly, that’s how I like it. I like to know as little as possible about a book or movie before I read or watch it. The less I know, the more I will get to discover naturally and the more I will be delighted…or wrecked. I’ll purposefully stop watching trailers online once I’ve decided I want to see the film. I hate reading long-form book reviews. Anything that goes into plot detail is too much. It’s so easy to give away too much. Just by saying this book wrecked me, I feel that I’ve already given away too much.
I will tell you this if you do need at least a little background info: Yes, it’s about a boy and a girl who meet and get to know each other. Yes, it’s a coming-of-age YA novel, but it totally appeals to an adult audience as well. This is a story you will want to keep reading. On a Saturday when I was outside enjoying the sunshine and warm weather with friends, I couldn’t wait to get back home and fall back in to Eleanor and Park’s world. I finished the book in fewer than two days.
If you have even tiny desire to read this book, please, just go read it. Then come back and talk to me. We can be wrecked together.
Okay, I’m hoping you’re only reading this far if you’ve already read the book. If not, seriously, please stop, and GO READ THE BOOK.
So I’m sitting up in bed at 1am on a Saturday night (Sunday morning), compelled to write because I can’t sleep. I’m supposed to get up at 7:30am to go hiking. It’s 80 degrees of static heat in my room, and I can’t sleep. And I don’t want to because of this story.
What makes my relationship with this book even weightier is that I read it in less than 48 hours. It’s all condensed into a big saturated mass of emotion. I also read it immediately after reading the somewhat embarrassingly gushy and chick-lit-y Anna and the French Kiss. Eleanor & Park is like the anti-Anna and the French Kiss. Don’t get me wrong, I totally ate up both of them, but where Anna is like lounging by the pool, Eleanor & Park is like white water rafting.
What’s really odd (and great!) about this book is that Eleanor and Park don’t even seem to want to fall in love with each other. She’s not even sweet or nice; Park says so himself, and to Eleanor, Park’s the “stupid Asian kid.” Whereas Anna and her Étienne are eye-rollingly flirty, adorable, and off-limits, but when-will-they-kiss-anyway? the whole damn time. But for Eleanor and Park, life and a relationship are harder because there are some serious problems going on in their world. But despite all that – they fall in love! They discover each other! Park’s mom eventually accepts her! Against all odds! And that would be your typical happy ending.
But then the odds are against them. Yet somehow the escape actually works! Park’s dad lets them leave and even helps them on their way! [oh yeah, and Park actually CAN drive stick shift, when it truly matters] Eleanor’s aunt and uncle take her in with no second thoughts. Eleanor and Park have a tough goodbye, but avoid an actual goodbye, because, you know, it’s just goodbye for now, not forever. And that would be your typical “you, the reader decides what happens” ending.
But it doesn’t end. Eleanor doesn’t call Park that night even though she said she would. She believes that Park will never love her as much as he did in that moment when they said goodbye, and she wants to preserve that perfect love. That is admirable in theory, but actually it’s just selfish. Park writes her everyday for a long time. She doesn’t even open the letters and packages. When he eventually stops sending letters, it hurts her, but you know what, too bad Eleanor! You can’t expect to keep someone in the dark for so long and be annoyed when he closes his eyes. So when Park finally gives up and semi-moves on with a girl that’s boring and nothing like Eleanor, he finally receives a postcard. With just three words. And that’s where Eleanor & Park ends, leaving me wrecked.