A tale of star-crossed teen lovers set in 1986, Eleanor & Park is the perfect book to reminisce on what it was to be young and experiencing the sweetness of first love. The year is 1986. Sixteen-year-old Park, born to an American soldier father and his Korean wife, is your typical teenager, if you consider listening to alternative music, wearing mostly black, being deeply into comics and training in taekwondo for most of your life typical. Having grown up in Omaha, Nebraska, Park is used to feeling out of place - not only does he not having anything in common with his athletic and sports-fixated father and younger brother, he does not get along with the kids at school. He mostly keeps to himself and prides himself on having his own seat on the school bus.
Enter Eleanor. Sixteen, self-described as “fat”, and generally awkward and uncomfortable, she comes from a disturbed and dysfunctional home life, where a cruel step-father holds reign over Eleanor's timid mother and five younger siblings. Having just transferred to Park's school, Eleanor is labelled as “weird” as soon as she steps on the school bus, and has difficulty getting a seat, until, fatefully, Park bitterly snaps at her to sit down next to him.
Thus begins a tumultuous, beautiful relationship. In the bus, Park notices Eleanor sneaking glances at his comics, and he begins sharing them with her, then loaning them to her, along with tapes of his favourite bands. They get closer and closer, and despite their respective situations, develop an intense and mutual caring and love for each other. While Park's family initially disapprove of Eleanor and her troubling home life, they grow to accept her and care for her as the girl their son loves. Eleanor, on the other hand, strives hard to keep the one good relationship in her life secret from her family, knowing that if her submissive mother and abusive step-father were to find out, it would end in chaos for the young couple.
Ultimately, their clandestine relationship is found out by Eleanor's family, and the lovers take steps to get her out of the state, far away from her step-father's violence. Their love story sadly ends when Eleanor ends up at a relative's home in Minnesota and Park returns to Omaha.
This saccharine yet dark tale of first love is written from the point of view of the two title characters, focusing on their dealing with their individual lives at first, and as the story progresses, on each other. The story provides a turbulent emotional journey of first love, with trifling and exasperating dialogue between the two as they learn to open themselves up to each other, while navigating the social demands of school and home life. It is not just a typical boy-meets-girl story, as each character is well fleshed out and intriguing in their own way. Built on those seemingly inconspicuous moments that make a relationship special, such as the brushing of hands, the reader is invited into this tale of fragile, beautiful love that can only exist between two unassuming teenagers.
Eleanor & Park is a story of first love that delves much deeper into the lives of its title characters. Set in a small-town in the 80s, it pulls the reader into the intriguing minds and behaviours of the young lovers, amidst a backdrop of sentimental memories of youth and tragic situations outside the characters' control. Told from the point of view of the two, the reader is bestowed insight into these special characters and one gets easily invested in their lives and finds themselves rooting for their love. It is a difficult book to put down once started, and the sweet moments juxtaposed with the darker and more painful moments very much mirror the characters' budding relationship. This tale is recommended as a light read for anyone hoping to relive or reminisce on the first love of their youth.
Best part of story, including ending:
The characters, as well as the 80s setting, reminded me greatly of my own youth and experiences in that time. I found the dialogue between the two captivating and, while cloying at times, very sweet and realistic.
Best scene in story:
The way the characters' relationship begins - with Eleanor sneaking glances at Park's comics, ultimately developing into Park loaning her his comics and music and then starting to talk to her - is particularly striking. It conveys the initial discomfort teenagers seem to have with their feelings, and their subsequent bravery and tenderness with each other as they start to open up to each other. This development could easily be applied to any two characters facing their love interest, but it works astounding well with these two.
Opinion about the main character:
Eleanor is a strong young woman who refuses to submit to her violent step-father the way the rest of her family does. However, in doing so, she builds up a wall around herself to keep herself guarded and thus initially refuses to accept Park's honest and pure love readily.
I personally identify most with Park, being that kid who doesn't follow the mainstream and keeps mostly to myself. He has an unassuming an honest air about him that transfers into his love for Eleanor.