“…Tell us, why has Romeo and Juliet survived for four hundred years?”
Park hated talking in class. Eleanor frowned at him, then looked away. He felt himself blush.
“Because…” he said quietly, looking at his desk, because people want to remember what it’s like to be young? and in love?”
I turned 23 this year, gained another year of experience and wisdom, and moved farther away from my youth. Eleanor and Park took me a few steps back to my young life; its protagonists, Eleanor who was fat, weird, and “looked like art,” and Park, my lovely, lovely boy Park, starred in my could have been dorky love story and wrung my heart out.
Rainbow Rowell’s first Young Adult offering received a shiny, shimmering, splendid review from John Green. Needless to say, the whole YA world is abuzz with Rowell’s high school love story set in the 80s.
It didn’t break new grounds. It talked about the universal story of first love, and it was tempting to dismiss Eleanor and Park as just another one, and well, it was. But Rowell did not make a cookie-cutter couple: She introduced characters with so many layers, it was impossible not to be endeared to them, feel with them, and believe in, and with, them.
Eleanor. He was still holding the end of her scarf, rubbing the silk idly between his thumb and fingers. She watched his hand.
If he were to look up at her now, he’d know exactly how stupid she was. She could feel her face go soft and gummy. If Park were to look up at her now, he’d know everything.
He didn’t look up. He wound the scarf around his fingers until his hand was hanging in the space between them.
Then he slid the silk and his fingers into her open palm.
And Eleanor disintegrated.
Park. Holding Eleanor’s hand was like holding a butterfly. Or a heartbeat. Like holding something so complete, and completely alive.
As soon as he touched her. he wondered how he’d gone by this long without doing it. He rubbed his thumb through her palm and her fingers, and was aware of her every breath.
Time dilutes intensity; that, up there, was the youth I miss.
I basked in Eleanor’s and Park’s rediscovery of hand-holding. Rowell let me marvel, once again, at the beauty of holding another person’s hand, and it was beautiful how Rowell made such mundane, almost ordinary scene into a spectacle of Feels.
The writing of Eleanor and Park was not the most eloquent I have read, but Rowell chose comic- and music-sharing to bring together Eleanor and Park. It hit a sweet, sore spot that I long for, all because in our contemporary timez, this seemed nearly lost (Just nearly because HOPES!!) among everything electronic.
I gushed with Park when he noticed Eleanor’s effort to protect her borrowed comic if it was his life she was holding. Well, I was bit annoyed when she kept repeating “perfect Asian kid” but that’s for later.
Eleanor. You couldn’t not notice the bruise on her face. Or the hickey under her chin. That fuck, that fuck, that fuck.
Eleanor and Park‘s charm was its sweet, love story, brought to life by Rowell’s ability to magnify ordinary moments, but its sparkle was shed off a bit with every issue it attempted to include: There was abusive relationships and fathers, broken families, poverty, machismo, the patriarchal society, bullying, and racism.
I understand that it was necessary to paint the world as judging and meddling as it is, as how it was during the 80s (I know nothing about the US in the 1980s so don’t trust me fully on this.), but I felt like Rowell barely scratched the surface of too many areas, opened and inflicted too many wounds, but never thought of giving or even pointing to where the medicine was.
When it went to the Dark Side, it plunged, head on, into a dark hole. The reveal of the culprit of Eleanor’s nasty notebook vandals was chilling and devastating. I hugged myself and savored this twist (really, I didn’t see this coming) all by my mean lonesome. It did drive the point that society is evil, and if I could, I’d stab it to death except that I’d die too in the process.
There was a lot of ugly crying. While I held this book to my chest, I wanted to hurl it at the wall, too. It ripped my heart out, for all the world to see and poke fun at, because, huhu, I hurt and feel for Eleanor and Park.
There came a point when I wanted to hunt Rainbow Rowell and demand my happy ending, because Eleanor and Park deserve it and I need it. You can pretty much picture me at the end of the book, wailing to Rowell “Where is my happy ending!?” in between sobs.
“I’m sorry about yesterday,” she said.
He hung on to his straps and shrugged. “Yesterday happens.”
As much as it pains me, an “I am sorry” note felt like a more organic end (I weep!) for Eleanor and Park. I would have wanted for my sweet boy Park to have his closure: a bittersweet, still tearful (and there was thrashing and cursing and ugly crying again and again) goodbye.
I found and left a part of me tucked in the pages of Eleanor and Park. I, too, was once in love; once “marveled at how long had I lasted without holding his hand;” once kissed I “wasn’t scared of doing it wrong;” and once had “my favorite person of all time” and lost it.
I held out until the end, withstanding Eleanor’s running away, and heart, in my throat (My heart was everywhere! I tell you!). If I could, I would put Eleanor and Park’s fictional love story in a fictional protective bubble and watch its fictional blossoming. What my barely adult self could muster, I would let them love and stop society from meddling and darkening their young hearts. BUT I AM NOT FICTION HUHU (Am I not? Really?).
Like going through a rainbow (rowell? hehe my puns are puny not funny) and find a mean leprechaun stealing my pot of gold: All I had was that rainbow ride to last me until I find a new book I’ll love and hate. Or a person. Whichever comes first.
Borrowing from The Weepies’ Painting by Chagall, I thank you, Eleanor and Park, for reminding me of “the quiet intensity, of people like us, wakeful dreamers.”
ALSO while we’re at this schmeezy, schmeelings, Feels business, you, dear reader, should run to the nearest local bookstore and buy Mikael de Lara Co’s first book of poetry, What Passes for Answers. Why? Because it will tell you about “(On) the Necessity of Sadness” then your Feels will be eternally grateful.
“I was already walking through/ the yawning door, towards/ the small necessary sadnesses/ of waking. I wish/ I could hold you now,/ but that is a line that has/ no place in a poem, like the swollen/ sheen of the moon tonight,/ or the word absence, or you,/ or longing.” On the Necessity of Sadness.