Ah, young love. It’s confusing and random…built on the gravely foundation of one or two common interests that mean “we’re meant to be!” It’s the flutter of seeing him in the hallway, the blushing that comes when he grabs your hand for the first time. Notes passed in hallways, diary entries littered with hearts and monograms, stolen glances during class…For young lovers, those first few months are magical and breathtaking. They’re filled with time spent exploring each other’s likes and dislikes, sharing favorite CD’s and books, and finding the small moments between chemistry and math to sneak away for a moment alone.
Set in the 1980’s among a background of comic books and great music (this book would be worth making into a movie for the soundtrack alone), Eleanor & Park is the story of two 16-year-olds, both outcasts in their own right, who find that where they best belong is with each other. It’s a story about the innocence of young love, the naivete of believing it will last forever. Much like the characters themselves, this book is cute on the surface, but the foundation of the story left me, well, unsatisfied.
Meet Eleanor – a young new-to-town girl with fiery red hair and a personality to match. Her style is frumpy, her body is unproportioned, and her attitude about the world has pretty much been ruined by her troubled family life.
Meet Park – a young Korean-American kid with beautiful green eyes, a great taste in comic books, and a quiet, reserved personality that makes him sexy in that soft mysterious way. He’s not the most popular kid in school, though the popular kids have adopted him as one of their own, and most days his mind wanders among a soundtrack of 1980’s rock songs that pump out all the feels.
When Eleanor is practically forced to sit with Park on the bus one day on the way to school, an inevitable meet-cute happens, and the two begin a quiet, intimate courtship, fueled by a love of comic books and mix tapes. I mean, how 80’s is that?
In the beginning, Eleanor and Park sit in comfortable silence, reading comic books together and listening to music. Most of the dialogue is said in the characters’ heads, a detail I loved and found personally very relatable. As they spend more time together on the bus and in school, a wonderful friendship begins to form that slowly, oh so slowly, transforms into something more.
It was at this moment that I stopped liking Eleanor & Park.
I wanted to like this book…I really did. It wasn’t a traditional love story, which I liked. The characters were flawed, which I also liked. But at some point along the road to romance, I lost interest. Eleanor began to frustrate me with her hot and cold personality and I became aggravated with how cold she was to Park at times. Granted, her behavior is understandable considering what we learn about her background, but that really wasn’t even enough for me to like her.
Personally, Park made this book for me. His kindness and understanding were traits beyond his years, and his adoration for Eleanor despite her insecurities made him an unlikely, albeit romantic, hero. His moments of quiet where he talks about Eleanor in his head are enough to make every girl hope that some guy out there thinks of her that way…and his determination to make Eleanor happy at the risk of his own happiness gave Park’s character much more fluidity and growth than Eleanor who, in comparison, seemed rather flat.
Even Eleanor’s secondary plot with her step-father seemed out of place to me. His actions didn’t seem justified…at least not enough. After the reveal at the end (don’t worry, no spoilers!), I just felt cheated…like I missed something along the way that led to that moment.
Did I love Eleanor & Park? No. But, for the most part, I enjoyed it. It’s a story that will churn up those feelings deep down that only arise when you rewatch Dawson’s Creek or Boy Meets World…it will remind you of those late-night talks, those stolen kisses before your parents get home, and that wonderful notion, however false it may be, that true love never ends.
Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.