I know. I’m arriving late to the Rainbow Rowell party. I don’t know why but there was something about her books that didn’t make me fall over myself to read them. Maybe it was the pastel covers, the cute titles, I don’t know. Maybe it’s that her first name is Rainbow, for sobbing out loud. Whatever it was, I was not actively campaigning against her books, I was just not that interested. And the Cannonball Read people LOVE her too. Despite all this evidence that I should really get over myself and indulge my YA loving book geek in some Rowell goodness, it took my housemate reading this book to make me see the light. She finished it, handed it to me and said “you need to read this. You HAVE to read this.”
And so I did. And what an unadulterated delight it turned out to be. A delight which made me well up with joy and sadness on more than one occasion. Eleanor is the new girl at school, she wears mismatched clothes, she has hair like Ronald McDonald, she’s a big girl with a big presence who only wants to go unnoticed. Park is the half Korean kid who sits at the back of the bus lost in music and looking too cool for school. On her first day, Park saves Eleanor from herself when she can’t decide where to sit on the bus to school. From there, slowly, they build a friendship, founded on mix tapes and comic books, and then they fall for each other. And if their falling doesn’t make you melt just a little bit, doesn’t take you back to what that first love was like, then I don’t know what to tell you. You may well be dead.
As soon as he said it, she broke into a smile. And when Eleanor smiled, something broke inside of him.
Something always did.
How can you not read a line like that and not melt? It’s always said that you should write what you know and it’s pretty clear that Rowell knows what it’s like to be an awkward teen falling in love for the first time. Everything about the two of them and how they are with each other felt so gloriously, gorgeously, painfully real, that I was texting a quote from pretty much every other page to my housemate with an “I can’t even fucking deal with this” after it.
Poking about on the interwebs after I finished it, I discovered some hilarious ranting about the book. People went after it for its racism (which misses the point of the racist content so massively, I actually could not believe what I was reading), its historical inauthenticity (it’s set in 1986, not 1886, for heavens sakes) and the ending, my GOD do some people loathe that final sentence. While I may concur a little that the plot device used to set the ending in motion feels a little rushed and unclear, the last line of this wonderful, beautiful book is pretty much perfect. It’s stayed with me since I finished it, along with many achingly memorable exchanges between the titular couple. I don’t care how old you are, what race, creed, colour or sexual orientation you are, you should read Eleanor & Park. You’ll feel better for it.