by Rainbow Rowell
First sentence: “He’d stopped trying to bring her back.”
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Eleanor is the new girl on the bus. She’s not noticeable because she’s attractive. Rather, it’s because she stands out: she has flaming red hair, she’s not the thinnest person on the boat, and she dresses like a hobo. The last thing Park wants is for her to sit next to him.
Park is not exactly someone who blends in all-white Omaha, Nebraska in late 1986. He’s short. He’s half-Korean. He likes alternative music. He reads comic books. He’s spent his life trying to lay low. And so, having the “taint” of Eleanor isn’t exactly the attention-getter he wants in his life.
Except, slowly, he realizes what a gem she is. It starts with comic books: she begins by reading over his shoulder, and that leads to actively sharing them with her. And as their relationship develops, Park realizes things about Eleanor — why she is who she is — and falls head over heels in love.
The most beautiful thing about this book, I think, is the slow development of Eleanor & Park’s relationship. It’s not instalove, it’s not all sparks and romance. It’s a friendship that develops into something more. And it’s complicated. Not the least reason because Eleanor’s stepfather is a real piece of work. Seriously. He’s one of those guys who is all about power and control, and yes, he abuses Eleanor’s mother. I loathed the man. It’s because of her stepfather (and her father, really, who isn’t much better) that she’s anxious about men, tries to fly low on the radar, and dresses the way she does. And Park, because of his innate decent-ness, is able to get through all of Eleanor’s defenses.
I’ve decided that what I need to do is man-up and realize that my high school years are really historical fiction. This is the third book this year set in the mid-1980s, and honestly, I think it’s the best. It actually felt like the 1980s — not only because of the music and vague pop culture references, but I think Rowell really got the way things were — but she also used the 80s as a way to connect her characters. And I was caught up in it all, not just for nostalgic reasons, but because the characters were caught up in it.
And the ending? Shall I just say it was perfect. Not “happily ever after”, but hopeful. Amazingly, wonderfully, perfectly hopeful. I appreciated that.
As Bill and Ted would say: it was excellent.