The only way I can think to profess my deep deep love of Rainbow Rowell’s novel, Eleanor and Park is to write this post with Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” playing in the background with memories of Lloyd Dobler holding a boom box over his head. For me, this is the epitome of popular culture and romance. So much of what I understand about romance is wrapped up in an orange trench coat, John Cusak’s smile, and the unyielding power of The Mix Tape.
Eleanor and Park is a walk down memory lane where the reader cannot help but be immersed back in the 1980’s, back in high school, and back in love for the first time. For new teenaged readers, the demographic for which it was written, perhaps the novel acts more as a gateway, a glimpse into the power of first love with a displaced setting, but for the 30-something reader, it is a nostalgic freight train of walkmans, comic book characters, and the language of love that was dependent entirely on the interpretation of song lyrics.
This book struck me as a reader on a number of levels. Not least of which was Rowell’s language, which is colorful, provoking, and eloquent; a combination often overlooked when regarding a teenage audience, but one I believe many teens aspire to. The depth of characters, which is slowly revealed but accentuated through their coming to terms with the power of popular culture, is so personal. My heart beat for Eleanor when she sat so closely to Park on the bus, and I blushed for them both when he made her that first tape. How many hours have I spent listening to mix tapes on my own Walkman into the wee hours of the morning, rewinding the same song over and over thinking about my first love? “November Rain” still steals my breath.
It is my opinion that this book is an experience. Though it captures first love so perfectly, the ups and the downs, it is also a social commentary on bullying, fitting in, sexism, rights of women, and physical discrimination. Eleanor’s tenacity and fear of her physical self is overwhelming as a woman, something I think we female readers can relate to on some level. Whereas Park’s obsession with popular culture is something that most teens can latch on to, even adults who were once (or like me, are still) comic reading, punk rock listening, youths at heart. In some ways we never grow up and the commitments we make to music and culture in those pivotal teenage-coming-of-age-years are ones we don’t let go of lightly, so that when we reach the final page of the novel and are left with three mysterious words to interpret, I cannot help but hope they say, “I’m coming home”, because as I read Eleanor and Park, that is exactly how I feel.
By Leigha Chiasson-Locke