Set in the 80s, Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell is a young adult masterpiece. Yes, I said it–a masterpiece. I love this author. I love these characters. I love the setting. I love the plot. I love the voice. I love this book. Can you tell? First I’ll tell you Eleanor is a high school girl and Park is a high school boy. (I wondered about the title before I started reading it, too). From Park’s family watching Wheel of Fortune after dinner to Eleanor thinking all she knows about kissing from the Fonz on Happy Days to the mix tapes and walkmans, the 80’s references are amazing and took me back to my own high school years. But this is not the only reason why this book is amazing. One word. . .
She’s the reason I chose to write about this YA novel on the Lit Ladies today. She’s the model for strong, unique girls who aren’t afraid to be themselves. She’s one of the best young adult heroines I have ever read about, and this list includes Katniss and Hermione. But, Eleanor is strong, smart, and beautiful in such a different way than the other two.
A little background about the novel: Eleanor is new at school because her mom let her return home after being kicked out of her house by her step-dad for an entire year. Eleanor now lives with her four brothers and sisters, her mom and the fictional-character-I-would-most-like-to-punch-in-the-face Richie the step-dad in a two-bedroom house–one room for the kids and one for the adults. They have one bathroom with NO DOOR off the kitchen. Richie is an abusive, creepy drunk, and all the kids fear him. Eleanor’s strategy is to stay out of his way when at all possible, and this includes taking a bath when she gets home from school before he’s home. Her clothes are from Good Will, and her belongings fit in a trash bag, including one small fruit box which contains a few personal, important items such as a walkman with no batteries. Eleanor is poor and large and awkward with bright red hair.
She also has to ride the bus to school. The kids are mean–they each have their own seat and no one wants her to sit down with them on the first day. Finally, Park moves over and lets her sit down, not very nicely, and this starts the beginning of a beautiful friendship and love story, but not right away. Eleanor won’t look at him or talk to him. She wonders why the “weird little Asian kid” even let her sit down, but she is interested in his comic books. He notices she reads over his shoulder, and so he starts to leave the pages open a little longer to make sure she can read them all. Then without speaking, he lets her borrow some, and then finally when they talk and discuss these stories, they realize they both have a love for music, too.
Eleanor is a survivor. She survives getting kicked out of her house for a year, away from a mother who has chosen an abusive husband over her own children. Eleanor survives boredom and abuse by turning to music and comics. She survives bullying by trusting a few kind souls. She fights until it’s too dangerous to fight anymore. She knows when to flee and when to start over. She is brave. She is stubborn. She is not afraid to show her style, regardless of the stares and smirks. Even Park’s Avon-lady mom who is petite and caring in stone-washed denim mini-skirts tries to change Eleanor’s look, but Park loves her for her. And Eleanor learns to love herself and see her beauty through his eyes. She’s not perfect–she’s sarcastic, withdrawn and stubborn, but she is a strong girl.
I can’t say it enough that I love this book. There are a few four-letter words and gross lines in this novel because Richie is truly one of the worst human beings alive. IF you are a teen and you don’t fit the norm, you may find answers through Eleanor. If you are a mom or teacher and you know a girl like this or you were a girl like this, you may find answers through Eleanor. CHECK OUT THIS NOVEL! If you’ve already read it, what did you think? Do you have a favorite strong female literary character?