Thanks to Trudi Jaye, our Guest Host!
Robert’s quick summary:
Park Sheridan is sitting on the school bus when he first meets Eleanor, the new girl. She’s not just any old new sixteen-year-old though, Eleanor is …. quirky.
Red haired, stockily-built (“fat” according to Eleanor), wearing eclectic men’s clothing … and very self-conscious … Eleanor is a perfect target for all the school bullies, in fact maybe everyone in The Flats.
Out of pity, Park – the nerdy Asian kid who no one touches – makes room for Eleanor to sit next to him, when everyone else on the bus makes it clear she’s unwanted.
Little does he realize how much that one action will change his life.
Eleanor & Park is by Rainbow Rowell
So what did we think? (From a reader’s perspective)
1. (Trudi) I loved the way the characters were described. They were both kind of anti-heroes, these awkward shy teenagers who didn’t even talk to each other for the first few weeks sitting on the bus together. They were very distinct and clear from the start. I was convinced that something bad was going to happen to Eleanor the whole book (in some kind of confrontation with Richie). It kept me on the edge of my seat, and reading really quickly through the book.
2. (Robert) I loved that never did Park think she was “fat,” only that she was strange-looking. The body issues were all inside Eleanor’s head – and her private thoughts about her dad, her violent and abusive stepdad, her mother and her 3 younger siblings really stop and make you think about all the unnecessary pain we feel – and sometimes create.
3. (Robert) This is really a gorgeous story: of first true love, of persecution, of how it feels to be “different,” of body issues and self-image, and of growing up in a white small-town. The voices and thoughts of both Eleanor and Park are superbly done; the tentative exploration of each other’s needs and desires, and the awkwardness that Eleanor feels about her body (and driven home by the endless taunts) – everything is sublimely real. There are a LOT of F-bombs, as well as sexual references, description of partial nudity and sex scenes, drug and alcohol use, so while the messages are fantastic for all ages, this is not a clean read. 15 and up, perhaps?
Another book where the dialog is delightful, but what makes this story really come to life are the everyday scenes. No magic, no dragons, no sci-fi, just people and their reactions and emotions. Loved it, can’t wait for it to be a movie. Definitely up there with TFIOS, Before I Fall and All The Bright Places.
What did we think from a writer’s perspective?
1. (Robert) Alternating between Park and Eleanor’s POV (guess which POV and tense!), we experience the two very different viewpoints, each with their own angst and preoccupations, which is a perfect way for a story like this to be told. We feel Park’s bravery in the face of the school jock (yay for Taekwondo!) and his fears that Eleanor won’t like what he likes. We feel his desperate care for her, especially in the latter part of the story. We also are made to feel Eleanor’s discomfort in her own skin, though she never gets to a self-hatred, but it clearly affects her self-esteem, and is part of what makes her avoid contact with others. This is never shoved in your face as a lead theme, but part of her insecurities and actions she takes (or doesn’t take).
2. (Trudi) It was so beautifully written, so understated, yet deep. It holds back, it doesn’t have lots of purple prose. Less is more.
I loved that sparseness, as a reader you had to read between the lines, and I loved that. It was a beautiful story of two confused teenagers falling in love, who didn’t always act in predictable ways, and who were unsure about things most of the time. IT WAS FAB.
3. (Robert) This is a simple setting, with great characters – for once we don’t get plastic parents, but well-described ancillary characters that comprise the setting: all the way to Steve’s garage and his Camaro. Sparse writing, but never terse makes for a wonderful read.
The tension built by Richie’s (the step-dad) alcohol-fueled abuse keeps us on the edge of the page, wondering what will trigger everything going bad, and lights the fuse right from the start to the end.
P.S. Loved the ending! Tears in the cinema! (Trudi, not so much!)
Trudi and Robert’s Famous Takeaways:
1. A story of 16 yr old first love can still be edgy and gritty, and confront us with real-world issues, all the while superimposing a touching romance. Nice!
2. It was very simple and straight forward. But amazingly complex for all that. (haha)
3. This is a book that stirs emotion, and anytime a story can do this, there’s got to be something of value to the human race.
Prompt of the Week:
You’re always the odd one out in any group, and often have your leg pulled because of it. One day, something happens that elevates your importance to the group as “status critical.” What is it, and why don’t you want to accept it?