lip lit: eleanor & park
Eleanor is the new girl who is finding it hard to get a comfortable seat anywhere in life – in the bus, in her new school, even in her family.
Park is the boy who wants nothing to do with Eleanor. The status quo dictates the rules of his hierarchical, hormone-induced teenage universe and in this case, states ‘Don’t sit next to me on the bus because it is not your seat.’
Eleanor & Park, written by Rainbow Rowell, is set in 1986 and revolves around the lives of Eleanor and Park. The two become entangled by the unrecognised force of bus seating and comic books. Day by day, they learn to communicate without actually speaking a word and they learn that silence between strangers can move in stages. In a world where noise is the norm, appearances are crucial affairs and bullies take the high ranks, Eleanor and Park scramble through an unlikely friendship, and an even more unlikely romance.
While at risk of writing a thoroughly cliché teenage romance novel, Rowell crafts the story through the form of her characters. Their lives become relatable to any reader through the common mystery of finding young and true love. At the same time, their characteristic forms take shape according to their unique identities and personalities, far from the expected stereotypical popularity in high school typically seen in Hollywood films like Mean Girls.
As we have learned over and over again in the teen narrative, we all yearn to be a part of the unattainable ‘popular’ crowd. Yet, it still shouldn’t stop us from being who we are. Eleanor represents the majority of people who are isolated, shunned and bullied. She is also courageous, strong and rebellious enough to avoid being pushed into the circle of conformity set by her peers.
The novel is an interesting combination of two separate, divergent insights to the thought processes of a boy and a girl. Yet, Rowell still manages to bring together the elements of contradictory perceptions in an inevitable love story:
It was like their lives were overlapping lines, like they had their own gravity.
Rowell’s words are easy for the mind. The plainness of language contradicts the nature of the teenage characters who are dealing with the complexity of puberty and high school, but the writing reflects the simplicity of falling in love. The conversational dialogue hits home to the vulnerable heart; while it borders cliché and is almost sappy, Rowell gets away with it as it is on the mark.
As the novel goes on, the author challenges the notion of family and self-development. Rowell presents you with the devastating effects of family separation, divorces and unstable emotional support for children, highlighting the battles fought and wounds received by both parents and children in dysfunctional families.
Amid these issues, Rowell also acknowledges the conservative mindset that is confronted by the liberalisation of sexuality: how one should dress, how one should present themselves, how one should conduct their appearance. What is now acceptable, as we are experiencing in the 21st century, contrasts sharply with the morals of the late eighties.
For someone who thought she had long grown past romance novels, picking up this book without knowledge of the plot became a very enjoyable couple of hours. This Eleanor & Park will have you realise that your soft spot for young love (or in fact, first love) is truly, very much alive.
Rainbow Rowell, in my opinion, is a brilliant storyteller. Using eloquent yet simple phrasing, she makes words soar, making her story true to life and a party for the imagination. A movie of words – that is what Eleanor & Park was.
Pick up a copy of Eleanor & Park here!