How can I not love a book set in 1986-1987, a book that captures the intensity of first love and the hopelessness of growing up poor and/or different? I was 16/17 in those years, and the awkwardness of attraction and the way music defined who we were and wanted to be washed over me with a wave of nostalgia as I read Eleanor & Park. How can I not love a book whose first sentence in chapter one reads “XTC was no good for drowning out the morons at the back of the bus”? How can I not love a book where the boy gives the girl his green Prefab Sprout t-shirt to replace the one smeared with her blood?
But you don’t have to be a child of the '80s to appreciate Rainbow Rowell’s young adult romance Eleanor & Park. Rowell’s choice to write the entire book in third person, but constantly switch perspectives between Eleanor and Park, works wonders. Even if a mixtape is as foreign to you as the krone as a unit of currency, you should still devour this book. You just have to be alive. Alive to the possibilities of love, and how the music you listen to as you become sexually aware means more to you than any music ever will.
Do students still write song lyrics on their notebooks? I don’t see them on any of my students’ notebooks. I think they become Facebook status updates and tweets. But this book made me want to go back and write the lyrics to "This Charming Man" on a notebook cover. (Surely someone has a Tumblr called Writing Smiths Lyrics on Notebooks.) Because Eleanor & Park is not a mushy, feel-good romance. It is wrenching in its sadness. And its honesty. How can I not love a book where the author says of Park, despite his inherent goodness, “But he kept finding new pockets of shallow inside himself” (178)?
I know guys aren’t “supposed” to read romance. Hell, I hate romance books. As a genre, romance shares a ranking with instruction manuals as far as I'm concerned. But I loved this book. How can I not love a book where the author refers to a father’s love as “table stakes”? A book that makes us remember how hard it was to be away from your beloved, especially in an era when even a phone call seemed like illicit contact.
How can I not love a book where Eleanor, with her shock of red hair and a personal thrift-shop style born of economic necessity, says to her Korean boyfriend: “And you look like a protagonist…You look like the person who wins in the end. You’re so pretty, and so good. You have magic eyes…And you make me feel like a cannibal” (113)? And you know who really wins in the end? You do, for having read this book.