** spoiler alert **
Also, this is a bit of a disjointed and gushing review. If you are looking for a synopsis, this is not the review for you.
So many thoughts!! First, off Eleanor is a girl in the 1980’s who comes from a very poverty stricken home, with a drunken and abusive step father named Richie. Park is more of a middle class kid, into comics and music. This story is the story of their high school romance, spanning the course of one year.
First off, I loved, loved, LOVED Park’s parents. Maybe because I had a father that was similar (no license until you can drive a stick) but I really liked his dad. I liked that his dad knew Richie, so already knew kind of where Eleanor was coming from and he wanted to help, but had no idea how, other than giving her a place to be and food.
I loved Park’s mom, especially after Christmas, when she sees Eleanor’s family at the grocery store and she understands the poverty they are living in. I also liked that scene because you have this image of Eleanor’s mom as a beauty from Eleanor’s description of her, but to Park, her mom looks like someone who might have been as beautiful as Eleanor once, but it kind of faded.
I love that Park kicked Steve in the face. Ahh, the days before zero tolerance. That scene was really well done, especially with Steve saying that he had no idea that Eleanor was Park’s girlfriend. Park saying it shouldn’t matter (you shouldn’t tease anyone that way) and Steve missing the point entirely and saying that of course it matters because they are friends. I loved this scene because Park couldn’t help kicking him in the face and also because later, when Park starts wearing eye liner to school it is considered “cool”, like Ozzie Osbourne, simply because a) people like Park b) he can and will kick your ass. I also like that his father tries really hard not to be proud of him, but you can tell, he totally is.
I love that comics brought them together. I never really read comics before my husband, so this really resonated with me because after meeting him I read Sandman, then through a class at school, I read Maus, and the Dark Knight. Later, I read Watchmen and V for Vendetta. Books and comics (which are like books with art) are a great thing to bond over, because if there is a lull in conversation, you can always talk about them.
I love that they also bonded over music, and OH MY GOD I so remember mixed tapes. I made mixed tapes well into my 20’s, and will still make CD’s, albeit not with the same frequency. And the Smiths!! I loved them so much in high school and still do to this day. The album Louder Than Bombs was constantly in my tape deck in my car and my husband now knows most of their songs too (he gave me comics, I gave him the Smiths), simply through being around me. The song they are talking about that he first plays for her the lyrics are “I am the son, I am the Heir” and I love that she misinterprets it as “I am the sun, I am the air” because without having liner notes, how else would you know?
I think that this story really sucked me in at first simply through nostalgia for that time period because I remember it. I remember mixed tapes being a kind of friend currency – it wasn’t just wooing a potential boyfriend or girlfriend, we would share mixed tapes between friends, the “Oh my God you have to listen to this song!” When I think of high school, I more often than not think of the music, because it was such an important and vital part of the high school experience, high school survival for me.
This book had tons of little details that made me like it – like Eleanor talking about how Shakespeare is making fun of Romeo and Juliet, otherwise why mention Rosalind?
Going back to an earlier book I read for book club, “Summer Sisters”, I found the similarity in jealousy of siblings to be interesting. In this book her sister Maisie is jealous and pissy because Eleanor gets to leave and has somewhere else better to go. I was talking to my husband about how it seems that children in abusive homes don’t have the bond other siblings do simply because there is too much jealousy over petty shit. He equated it to prisoners not really wanting other prisoners to be allowed an escape. He told me that crabs in a boiling pot will pull escaping crabs down into the pot to die with them – mental imagery I did not particularly want, but shared anyway. You’re welcome.
I love that Eleanor is smart enough at the end of the book to just leave and run away. I also love that Tina, who has been giving her such a hard time at school, recognizes at least a little bit that Eleanor is in deep shit and offers to help her. I thought that was a brilliant bit where Steve talks about killing Tina’s stepdad, so he could kill Eleanor’s too, if she wanted. It lets you know WHY Tina is being helpful and a little bit about why she is kind of a bitch.
I never really totally warmed to Eleanor. I understood where she was coming from, I understood that she was terribly damaged, but she never really became likable to me. Park was absolutely likable and honestly the best thing about Eleanor is she liked Park, but I think that she is just so damaged at this point that it is part of why I didn’t like her. I don’t mind damaged, but she seemed so shut down, and she never shared very much, and she freaks out the first time she is at Park’s house. She doesn’t like Batman. I mean, come on. Then after she moves away, she not only doesn’t call him, she doesn’t write to him, doesn’t read what he has sent her. I just wanted to smack her.
Which leads me to the ending – I was not quite satisfied. What were the three words on the postcard she sent Park? I love you – which she never said or I miss you – which they both said tons? What happened to the rest of her family? Did they move up north, too? I am sick of Lady vs. Tiger being every author’s cop out ending – the Stephen King book I just read ended much the same way – and that while I know that life isn’t nice and neat and tidy, a few more details would not have killed anyone. Did her uncle take in all 5 kids? Did her mother go too? WTF happened? If you are going to have be invested in your character, tell us what happens. Two lines could have covered it.
And speaking of the mother, hated her. I have zero respect for women who put abusive, asshole, drunkard husbands before the welfare of their kids. When Eleanor gave her the $50 for Christmas so they could buy food, she didn’t even say thank you. Her mom put them in this position and then doesn’t even have the decency to say thanks. What a bitch.
Even though I was not happy with the ending, there was so much greatness in this book that I love it anyway. I loved that Park’s dad woke up or was awake when he is sneaking out to take Eleanor to Minnesota. I love that he knows exactly why she has to run away, and that he says if the uncle doesn’t take her in to bring her back and they will figure out something. His dad was a stand up man. Also, I love that he says that Park can take her to Minnesota, but only if he drives the truck with a stick shift. Hardass. But he knows how to motivate his son.
It was kind of like when Park’s younger brother asked to have his girlfriend over and his dad says he can if he gives up Nintendo. His brother doesn’t like the girlfriend enough to give up Nintendo, but Park was like “Sure, I can give up Nintendo” and his dad said he didn’t have to. The younger brother missed the point of the exchange, but he was basically saying if the girl isn’t worth giving up Nintendo, then you aren’t really that into her. Park loved Eleanor enough to drive a stickshift, even while his dad was watching. Just full of win. Loved it.
Ok. I think I am done. This is the kind of book where for a few days after reading it, I couldn’t read anything else. It just stays with you.
I give it 4.5 out of 5 and it would have been a perfect 5 if the ending hadn’t been a little bit of a cop out.