Happy Valentine’s Day, you heart-eyed lovelies. I’ve come to you on Cupid’s favorite day—or is it his least favorite because he has to do a lot of work?—with a post that’s about two years in the making. That’s right, y’all. It’s Eleanor and Park time!
As you may or may not remember (or be aware of), a few years ago, I started working on posts dedicated to my love of the four Rainbow Rowell books as I enjoyed my first time rereading them; her latest book, Carry On, hadn’t been published yet. Going in reverse chronological order meant that my favorite YA book of hers, Eleanor and Park, would be the last one I discussed in the series. However, shenanigans ensued. I lost the notebook where I had taken extensive notes during my rereads, and I wanted there to be some semblance of order while I vomited my immense love for E&P. Then too much time passed, and I felt I’d missed the window to talk about it.
I started my second reread of the book late last year, and I figured I’d give blogging about it another shot. I didn’t have a good notebook for keeping track of my thoughts, so I decided to do the unthinkable . . . a close reading (wherein you write notes INSIDE the book). I know! I’ve only done it one and a half times before, and it kills me a little on the inside each time. I just can’t support it, and I also feel like I don’t get much out of the experience (that’s a story for another time)! But knowing I had two other copies of E&P made it semi-okay.
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Naturally, while unpacking, I found the notebook with my original reread notes . . .
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Anyway! Being distracted by the other books I’ve blogged about in the past two months ended up being a blessing in disguise because now I get to talk about my favorite romantic coupling for the year’s most romantic holiday. Yaaaaaaay!!! You ready?
Before I start saying all the things that I plan to say, let me just share two points from my original notes.
First, this slightly embarrassing but still totally accurate description of how much this book means to me, written when I was about 100 pages in (but also reflecting on something I’d said to Christina when I was about 50 pages in):
Earlier, I said to Christina that reading so far had already made me feel shimmery. I don’t know if that covers it. This book hits me like a freight train. This book is ingrained in my soul. This book is . . . I don’t know . . . alive. If it were a person, I would want it to father my children. [A few thoughts later] Reading this book is a visceral experience. I feel it everywhere. There aren’t words for this book. Visceral. Palpable. Corporeal. Carnal.
So yeah. I’m obsessed. Be prepared for the ensuing bout of sheer reverence.
Secondly, I made a note that page 296 was when I started to cry. I checked my close reading comments because I wrote down when I started to cry this time around as well. EXACT. SAME. PAGE. That comforts me lol.
So. If you live under a rock and have no idea what E&P is about, I feel truly sad for you . . . But I will also give you a short synopsis.
Eleanor has recently moved back in with her mother, stepfather, and siblings after being kicked out by said stepfather (Richie) over a year ago. It’s her first day of school, and she gets on the bus, seemingly unaware of how the bus-riding hierarchy works. She is saved by Park, a half-Korean, half-Irish boy who toes the line of popularity and just doesn’t want to invite any unnecessary drama into his life. The book is told from from both their perspectives, switching between them at random intervals.
A hostile seating arrangement turns into a silent sharing of the (mostly) Marvel comics Park reads, to slight conversation, to mixtapes being made, to love. There are road bumps, of course. Eleanor’s main school tormentor, Tina, used to “go with” Park in the eighth grade and still kinda has a thing for him, even though she’s seriously dating someone else. Park’s Korean mother loves feminine things, and with Eleanor being anything but feminine, their first meeting doesn’t go well. And SOMEONE is writing obscene notes on Eleanor’s books . . .
For those of you looking for a happy ending . . . You don’t quite get it. Rainbow, in all her genius, saw fit to leave us with an open-ended finale; three unknown words hang in the balance. I’m pretty sure all E&P fanatics envision the same three words, although there is one acceptable alternative I can think of . . .
Sorry I’m being so cryptic lol I just don’t want to ruin it if you plan to pick up the book!!
Much like Super Hubs’s struggles to talk about Undertale, I am having a very hard time figuring out how to discuss this book with you. It’s so special to me; I just can’t come up with the right words! But I’ll give it a shot!
I love this story for so many reasons, it’s hard to quantify. I love the way Eleanor and Park think. They’re both very intense, very insecure, very sensitive . . . As they start their slow creep to the edge that will be their undoing (and, you guessed it, that edge is love), their internal dialogue is filled with worrying about how the other one perceives them. Park is convinced that Eleanor hates him; she’s convinced he’s going to find out that she’s a freak with a terrible home life. They are both desperate for affection, and they don’t even realize how much they need each other.
Once they begin to fall for each other, I love how intense the language becomes. There’s urgency, there’s desperation, there’s the need to devour each other (but in a romantic way). Take, for instance, how the first time they hold hands is described. From Eleanor’s perspective: “Then he slid the silk and his fingers into her open palm. And Eleanor disintegrated” (P. 71). From Park’s perspective: “Jesus. Was it possible to rape someone’s hand?” (P. 74).
How can you not love that?! It’s just another example (of the other examples I provided when I wrote about her other books) of how Rainbow is a master. Her words are perfection. (Don’t even get me started on how she handles their gentle forays into the physical side of their relationship; I die.) The first time Eleanor and Park talk on the phone, the delicate nature—it’s so easy to make a verbal misstep—is too real, but in the best possible way. They are so tentative, even though they’re both on the verge of saying “I love you,” and it makes me frustrated and happy all at the same time.
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That could describe how I feel about a lot of their interactions, actually, haha. I’m frustrated because one of them is pulling back or doing something stupid (like when Park suggests Eleanor is writing herself those graphic notes just because he can’t fathom his former flame Tina being a part of it) but happy because they’re just so cute and perfect together.
I also think the fact that they’re perfect together but not perfect IS perfect. How many times can I say perfect, lol! They make mistakes, but those mistakes are never enough to separate them for good. Take the aforementioned Park misstep. He loves Eleanor, but he is also a teenage boy who is prone to thinking about how he’s being perceived. He’s already extra sensitive to this being half-Korean and having a father who can be a little too aggro at times, and his usual method has been to fly as under the radar as possible. Eleanor wears men’s shirts and ties, has multiple scarves and pieces of fabric around her wrists and in her wild, curly red hair . . . and she’s “big.” She can’t help but draw attention to herself, and sometimes she’s doing it just so people will leave her alone. So it’s not surprising that sometimes he wishes she would just be normal—or that when he goes all taekwondo on his friend Steve’s ass for making fun of Eleanor, part of his reason is because he feels like Steve is making fun of him too. I forgive him for these transgressions because I know that they’re coming from a place outside his love for Eleanor; it’s not depleted simply because he is a little weak.
The same goes for Eleanor. She pushes him away at almost every turn (boy, have I been there!) because she’s afraid to let him in. She doesn’t want him to know that she shares her bedroom with her three siblings, that her bathroom is basically just a tub and sink attached to the side of the kitchen, that her stepfather is seriously creepy and abusive. She can’t fathom why Park would like anything about her, and she’s often waiting for him to come to his senses (again: I. HAVE. BEEN. THERE). But she also allows herself to feel her feelings for Park. She gives over to them in ways that break my heart.
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As a super random thing that I love: Eleanor always goes “God.” when she’s exasperated; Park always says “Jesus.” It’s adorable that they’re so similar in this regard. I also love that I can perfectly hear Eleanor whenever she says it. If the movie ever gets made, and the actress doesn’t say “God” the right way, I’m going to be pissed. (I will also be pissed if she’s not plus-sized, but that’s not a conversation for right now.)
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Another super random thing: Eleanor knows right away that Park is some kind of Asian. In the book’s first section, which is a Park POV, one of his friends is shocked to find out Park is part Asian; Steve incorrectly says Park’s mom is Chinese. So it’s obvious that knowledge of Asian cultures is at best minimal in their little town. Yet, in the second section, Eleanor refers to Park as “that stupid Asian kid.” So she knew automatically that he was part Asian, despite only knowing a handful of Asian kids in her lifetime. I don’t know why, but this feels significant to me.
If I’m being honest, Park is what makes the book for me. He’s too wonderful; I referred to him as the “beautifully untainted” in my first reread. He’s the first one to acknowledge the budding feelings of love. He’s also the first one to start using the other person’s name in their thoughts. Until page 52, he had consistently called Eleanor “her” or “she” in his head, and she thought of him as “that stupid Asian kid” (or “stupid, perfect Asian kid”). But on page 52, after he played her his mixtape, he actively changes his habit and begins thinking of her as Eleanor; she goes on not giving him his name for a while.
That’s basically sums up their relationship. Park is always reaching first when it comes to the big emotional things, and Eleanor lets him because she needs him to go first. She’s not going to put herself out on the line. Which, as I’ve said, is so frustrating!!! Having been where she is, I’m constantly shouting at her to get her life right because she deserves to be happy and she deserves Park.
I also love that he doesn’t really see her as big. Her size is never given a specific number, but I’ve always envisioned her around a 16 or 18 because people say she’s big, but a lot of times, they make a note about how she could be much bigger. Park’s dad found out her nickname was Big Red, and when he sees her for the first time, he’s like “I expected her to be a lot bigger.” So I imagine that she’s a size that would probably be acceptable if she were older (and probably even average in some circles), but because she’s an insecure high schooler, she sees herself as huge. But Park is never deterred by her weight. He thinks she looks and feels like a woman; he thinks she looks like her mom, actually, whom Eleanor described as being as beautiful as a queen but Park thinks of her as a tired, run-down Eleanor.
He really sees Eleanor, and I know that’s a cliche thing to say, but it’s true. And I know I’m not alone in loving that about him. The quote that is used the most in fan art and fan fangirling comes from his POV: “She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something” (p. 165).
My favorite habit of his is when he thinks back to the first time he saw her. He was actively annoyed at having to share his seat with her; he thought she was big and awkward. Later on, when he thinks about this, he’s horrified. He can’t believe he didn’t see what he sees now, and I love it. At one point, he doesn’t even think about it because all he knows is his love for her.
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Naturally, the reason Park resonates with me so much is because I relate too much to Eleanor. While her home life is way more fucked up than mine could have even dreamed of being, I completely understand her struggles with self-esteem and body image. Rainbow captures these emotions so beautifully, I just want to build an altar to her genius, Helga in Hey Arnold-style (but minus the chewed gum). In my second reread, I have many notes where I’m just like “Eleanor, let him in!” “Be vulnerable, you dummy.” “Giiiiiiiiirl.” I could’ve been one of the sassy black friends she picks up lol
As I said, the book ends on an open note, and there are so many questions I’d love to have answered. It’s for this reason that E&P doesn’t beat out I Am the Messenger for my ultimate book love. There isn’t a single thing I’d change about the latter, whereas I just want more, more, more, more from Rainbow’s slice of brilliance. Thus, it’s receives my gold medal of book excellence (IAtM is platinum).
I don’t think I can say more about how important this book is to me. When I read it, my heart feels like it’s going to just explode, and I get to the end debating whether I want to sob uncontrollably or just hold it to my chest, smiling. (Usually the latter, but I’d be interested to see what happens when I read this book while pregnant!) The love story encapsulated here is one that I think will hold its place in the romance hall of fame for quite some time, would-be book-banners be damned!
I hope that, if you’ve never read the book, that my rambling makes you want to pick it up; if you’ve already read it, I hope I did our book justice!
May your box of chocolates have a second layer,
PS: Here’s a picture of the signed copy that SH bought me a while back!
PPS: You can find the first three Rainbow posts I wrote by going into the Post From Lit’s Not Dead drop-down menu.
PPPS: Oh my God! I can’t believe I forgot to bring up how Rainbow’s Spotify playlists for this book blow my freakin’ mind. As I said to a friend on Twitter recently, Park Side A has become a spiritual experience for me whenever I listen to it; it’s like coming home. Clearly I’ll have to do a follow-up mini-post!