The cover of Eleanor and Park has this review from New York Times bestselling author Gayle Forman:
This sexy, tender romance thrums with punk rock and true love. Readers will swoon.
Eleanor and Park, set in the 80’s, is the story of two misfit teenagers who share and preference for punk rock and comic books and who fall madly, deeply, and I will admit, tenderly in love. They meet on the school bus. When every other kid on the bus treats Eleanor, a large redhead with a flamboyant style, cruelly, Park begrudgingly offers to let her sit with him. Day after day he tolerates her. Day after day she endures heartless classmates and an almost unimaginably abusive home life. But when Eleanor and Park discover their shared interest in comic books and alternative music, an unlikely friendship slowly blossoms. That friendship eventually turns into love.
Park falls in love with Eleanor for all the right reasons. She is funny, smart, and easy to talk to. Yet, in spite of his love for her, he struggles a little with embarrassment over her misfit ways. Eleanor’s love for Park seems equally un-shallow, but after years of abuse and neglect, she struggles to let herself get close to Park. And while attraction for each other definitely grows out of their friendship and plays a part in their story, Eleanor and Park seem to be really in love – not just in “He’s so cute/ she’s so hot.” teenage love. I like that about this book.
I also was struck by the story of Eleanor’s tragic home life. I felt like this book gave me a deeper insight into what life is like for some kids. For that reason alone, I’m glad I read it. I have renewed empathy for some of my students.
Rowell does a masterful job of describing what it is like to be young and in love. But there is an intensity to Eleanor and Park’s love that, as a parent, I find unsettling. I know that in our culture many people see young love as a right of passage. We have glorified high school romance to the point that most young girls (and guys) feel like their high school years aren’t complete until they find that one special (for now) someone. This is just the kind of books that feeds into that way of thinking.
I think in her review of this book, Gayle Forman is spot on. This book is well-written, full of beautiful and heartbreaking writing. I guess the questions is whether or not you want your teen or preteen daughter to swoon over a sexy, tender, punk rock love story. For mine, I’m going to go with no. There’s a lot of great literature out there that does not perpetuate the myth that young love is what teenage life is all about. I think I’ll encourage my kids in that direction.
Despite her horrible home life, most of the abuse that Eleanor endures is verbal abuse and neglect. Her stepfather’s violence is mostly hinted at.
YES! Almost all of Rowell’s character’s have filthy mouths and no respect for the Lord’s name. That alone might disqualify this book for a lot of families.
Park and Eleanor have a couple of heavy make out sessions, but remarkably they don’t go all the way. However, this is due more to a lack of opportunity than a moral compass. There is also language that is extremely vulgar and sexual in nature.
QUOTES FROM THE BOOK
“Holding Eleanor’s hand was like holding a butterfly. Or a heartbeat. Like holding something complete, and completely alive.”
“I don’t think I even breathe when we’re not together,..”
“Eleanor was right: She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.”
“You think that holding someone hard will bring them closer. You think that you can hold them so hard that you’ll still feel them, embossed on you, when you pull away…Every time Eleanor pulled away from Park, she felt the gasping loss of him.”
“Or maybe he thought now, he just didn’t recognize all those other girls. The way a computer drive will spit out a disk if it doesn’t recognize the formatting…When he touched Eleanor’s hand, he recognized her. He knew.”
“They talked about the White Album on the way to school, but just as an excuse to stare at each other’s mouths.”
“He’d thought he was over caring about what people thought of him. He’d thought that loving Eleanor proved that. But he kept finding new pockets of shallow inside himself. He kept finding new ways to betray her.”
“He felt himself smile. He felt like something warm spilled in his heart.”