Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell

eleanor

     Someone once told me that I should marry my first love.  If I did that, she assured me, I would miss the worst pain of heartbreak that comes from tearing yourself away from your first love.  And we (my first love and I) would forever share the tender, open, honest relationship that no one ever has after that first broken heart.  A love that age and experience (and past hurts and regrets) just won’t allow you to feel.

     A relationship like the one shared by Eleanor and Park, Rainbow Rowell’s fictional misfit lovers.  Eleanor, the new girl in school, is too beautiful and mature to be accepted by anyone so she is shunned.  This is 1986, when vintage clothes were strange and young ladies had to wear those horrible (HORRIBLE!) one-piece polyester unitards for gym class.  Park, a cool kid with a Korean mom and a former American service man dad who are still deeply in love, finds himself stuck with sitting next to her on the school bus simply because he is the only one not cruel enough to turn her away.  As the school year progresses, Park finds himself magnetically drawn to the girl in the weird clothes who makes the intelligent comments in English class.  The girl with “adorable cheeks.  Dimples on top of freckles . . . and a face shaped like a box of chocolates.”

vintage_valentines_day_blonde_girl_w_chocolates_postcard-p239223526936170185en8sh_325

     If Eleanor and Park all sounds a bit . . . Shakespearean, Rowell intends it to.  Early in the novel, which is classified as Young Adult by the way (despite the many adult book clubs reading it), Eleanor and Park‘s English class reads Romeo & Juliet.  Eleanor and the teacher Mr. Stessman discuss the tragedy.

“No . . . ” she  said.  “I just don’t think it’s a tragedy.”

 “It’s the tragedy,” Mr. Stessman said.

 She rolled her eyes.  She was wearing tow or three necklaces, old fake pearls, like Park’s grandmother wore to church,and she twisted them while she talked.  “But he’s so obviously making fun of them,” she said.

 “Who is?”

  “Shakespeare.”

   “Do tell . . .”                                         tumblr_l59hvs1GWG1qccbedo1_1280

She rolled her eyes again.  She knew Mr. Stessman’s game by now.  “Romeo and Juliet are just two rich kids who’ve always gotten every little thing they want.  And now, they think they want each other.  . . . They don’t even know each other.  . . . If Shakespeare wanted you to believe they were in love, he wouldn’t tell you in almost the very first scene that Romeo was hung up on Rosaline.  . . . It’s Shakespeare making fun of love,” she said.

     Mr. Stessman begs another student, “one with a heart,” to redefine the play and explain why this play has survived four hundred years.  Park, unwittingly does.  “Because people want to remember what it’s like to be young?  And in love. . . . Is that right?”  Park asked.

     That afternoon, Eleanor speaks to Park on the bus.  And they fall in love.  And as you know, the course of true love never did run smooth.  Ms. Rowell herself said in an interview that she believes you can find real love at a young age, but it is incredibly hard to make it last.  http://teenlitrocks.com/2013/02/20/eleanor-and-park-author-rainbow-rowell/  That’s the trick, isn’t it?  To find love and make it last . . . in a way that doesn’t involve a suicide pact?

    Throughout Eleanor and Park, I was reminded of Romeo And Juliet.  The absolute certainty of those two young lovers (and their friends) that immediate action must be taken, that their instincts must be correct and that time is the enemy of love.  A sweet melancholy infuses the passion.  At the age of 17, that is life.  And it will never be that way again.  Romeo describes his first sight of Juliet.

Oh, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear,
Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear.
So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows
As yonder lady o’er her fellows shows.
The measure done, I’ll watch her place of stand,
And, touching hers, make blessèd my rude hand.
Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight!
For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.
     Read Eleanor & Park.  Read Romeo & Juliet.  Marry your first love.  At least two of the three are still possible.
BOOK CLUB MENU
Red wine — Eleanor’s mother serves lots of red wine at parties before her divorce
Turkey with stuffing
Mashed potatoes
Rice pudding
3/4 cup uncooked white rice
2 cups milk, divided
1/3 cup white sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
2/3 cup golden raisins
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Bring 1 1/2 cups water to a boil in a saucepan; stir rice into boiling water. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes.
In a clean saucepan, combine 1 1/2 cups cooked rice, 1 1/2 cups milk, sugar and salt. Cook over medium heat until thick and creamy, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in remaining 1/2 cup milk, beaten egg, and raisins; cook 2 minutes more, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in butter and vanilla.
MUSIC
The book is full of music.  Actually, Eleanor and Park bond through Park sharing music with Eleanor.  He makes her tapes of his favorites music, The Smiths, The Cure … bands she’s never heard of.  She returns his gift by sharing with him the Beatles’ Rubber Soul.  How can you beat that?
As an update: I queried author Rainbow Rowell about her own playlist for Eleanor and Park. She responded that she has it posted on her Spotify profile. So if you’re on Spotify and want to listen to what Rainbow Rowell was listening to, go get it!
Happy Reading!
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One thought on “Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell

  1. Pingback: School Classics | daeandwrite

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