I am still working on Project Five Romances, if you can call reading five measly books a project. I read the Jennifer Smith, the Sarah Dessen, the Stephanie Perkins, and then hit a bottleneck of Waiting for Library Reserves to Come In. So I charged up my borrowed Nook and started reading my first Netgalley ARC – Eleanor & Park. Call it Project Six Romances.
Eleanor and Park are students at the same high school. Park is a Korean-American living in a white-bread Nebraska town, but he’s known everyone in the neighborhood and school forever so he’s got his own social agenda, even if he doesn’t quite fit in. Eleanor, on the other hand, is the new girl, and nothing about her fits in – her body, her crazy red hair, her thrift-store-because-that’s-all-she-can-afford wardrobe, how she shares a room with her four siblings and how her mom let her new husband kick Eleanor out of the house for a year. She’s “Fat Slut.” She’s “Big Red.” She’s the girl whose street clothes get flushed in the toilet during gym class, who couldn’t blend in no matter how hard she tries. Home sucks. School sucks. The only tolerable portion of the day is when she reads comic books over Park’s shoulder when they sit together on the bus.
And then they fall in love.
Oh, they fall in love.
I don’t even want to make this Romance #6 because it’s so different than the kind of romance I was going for when picking the first five. No offense to the contemporary light YA romance, but all five of the selected titles adhere to a rough pattern, a bit of a formula. Reader meets girl. Girl has problems. Girl meets boy. Problems complicate boy. Girl solves problems. Girl gets boy. It’s a formula I like, but it could not be further from Eleanor & Park. Eleanor is a girl with problems, but they are problems too big for any teenager to “solve” on her own, with or without the help of a boy. Park wants to help, but Eleanor won’t let him all the way in, and even when she does he can’t help her either.
They fall in love anyway.
And that it why I liked this book so damn much – because when you are a teenager and you fall in love, it’s rarely easy. You feel victimized by adults with power, by your peers. You can’t say what you want, what you are feeling; communication breaks down suddenly and with consequence. You know in your heart of hearts that you aren’t going to be together forever, even if you want to, really really badly.
But you fall in love anyway.
This book reminded me much of Pete Hautman’s The Big Crunch, but with a closer, more intimate narrative. Like Wes and June, Eleanor and Park get alternating chapters, and while Eleanor is the true protagonist, I believe, it was all about Park for me. He was just the sweetest boy trying to fit in and stand out, to follow the crowd and follow his heart, to find out what it means to him to be a man.
I didn’t cry, I didn’t swoon, I didn’t rush through the last pages in anticipation that The Boy and The Girl would finally end up together. It’s not that kind of romance.
But I loved it anyway.