As I read Eleanor & Park, I noticed that Eleanor is not just a typical teenage girl. She faces many obstacles most sixteen year olds do not have to experience, even in 1986. What effect does a difficult life have on a young girl like Eleanor? How does a normal teenager like Park see passed all of Eleanor’s flaws and still love her for who she is? As the story goes on, I learn through each chapter what this book is really about—how somebody can find love in such a broken girl. Eleanor’s background of divorced parents and an evil stepdad, who previously kicked her out, sets the tone for Eleanor’s life—pretty depressing. Letting herself open up to a boy who comes from a well put together family was the biggest challenge; she does not understand why somebody like Park could love her. What does Eleanor have to offer for Park’s life anyway? Love isn’t about perfection, it is about finding a way to accept every flaw someone has, to love them for who they are, and Park shows the readers just how to love a broken girl.
Eleanor lived a life that was nowhere near perfect, and she was well aware of this. Her stepdad made her life miserable, especially the day her kicked her out, while screaming and yelling at her— “Eleanor was too shocked to make out what he was shouting at her. FAT and FUCK and BITCH.” (Rowell 153). This helped explain the setting of Eleanor’s life. She was not welcome in her own home anymore and had nasty words said to her. How could she love herself through this? Even her own mother let this happen— “Her mother pulled Eleanor to the top of the stairs, then pushed her down. He was right behind them.” (Rowell 153). Eleanor’s mother always took her stepdad’s side which hurt Eleanor even more, but would let it go each time. Having no support from your parents sets a child up for a difficult life. Eleanor was forced to be independent and had no sense of home. No wonder she was broken and made it nearly impossible to let Park in. Not to mention just her home life, but she also was bullied at school. From being called big red to rag head, her curly red hair was a popular target for classmates. She was aware of her physical appearance as well, describing herself as “her mother through a fish tank” (Rowell 18). She wasn’t small and petite like the other girls at school, which causes even more bullying and self-doubt. All these things made her fear the feeling of love, too. Eleanor says to Park, “What if you decide you don’t want me? How could you want me like I want you?” (Rowell 111) She is afraid of Park not feeling like she does, which portrays self-doubt and inability to see how others could love her. Eleanor could have an endless list of reasons why she does not love herself, as in the examples above, so as a reader I understand her difficulty with letting Park love her.
Park, on the other hand, seemed to have it a little easier. He was not bullied, nor did he have family issues. He was a little different from your typical Nebraska kid, being half asian and being a huge music fan unlike anybody else, so it seemed. So what made him go from the first bus ride, snapping at Eleanor, to falling in love with her? Well, that is where it all started— the bus rides. Each moment on the bus was important to Eleanor and Park. They began to find their common interests, which is how Park went from thinking she was “big and awkward” (Rowell 8) to discovering her true beauty. He lists things about her she doesn’t love about herself— “But I think it’s got as much to do with your hair being red and your hands being soft… and the fact that you smell like homemade birthday cake” (Rowell 110). It wasn’t easy for Park, to find the right words for him to say without Eleanor getting mad or being sarcastic, but that is how you know he really was falling for Eleanor, because he didn’t give up. You don’t just give up on love, you do whatever you can to try to make the other person happy. And that is what Park did, he tried everything to make Eleanor smile, which may have seemed impossible. Why? Why was it so hard to get Eleanor to smile? Why does she take a compliment and turn it completely around? This has to do with the amount of self-love she has for herself. Eleanor was afraid to let someone tell her what they love about her because she has always told herself the opposite.
There are so many lessons to learn from in this book. Eleanor may be a broken girl coming from a rough time in her life, but that doesn’t make it impossible for somebody to love her. Park taught us not to judge a book by its cover, because once he got to know Eleanor like he did, he learned to love every curve, every strand of curly red hair, and every little attitude Eleanor had. Park may not have been able to save her completely, and she slipped away, but he let her go because he loved her, and wanted her to be happy, even if it left him heartbroken. First love usually never lasts, but I don’t think Park will ever find a way to stop loving Eleanor, she was always on his mind. “She only came back when she felt like it, anyway, in dreams and lies and broken-down déjà vu.” (Rowell 321). In an interview Rainbow Rowell did for the book, she stated, “My motivation was to make people actually feel love, to give them a realistic view of it. If they’re young and never have been in love, for them to know— yes, this how it feels.” (Schulman, Martha). The moral of the story from my understanding is that nothing in this world is perfect, first love is full on unknowns, don’t be afraid to let somebody in, and it is not impossible to fall in love with a broken girl.
Rowell, Rainbow. Eleanor & Park. St. Martin’s Press, 2013.
Schulman, Martha. “Q & A with Rainbow Rowell.” Publishers Weekly. Jan 29, 2013. http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/authors/interviews/article/55711-q-a-with-rainbow-rowell.html