If you liked John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, then you’ll like this Romeo and Juliet story of two star-crossed lovers in Omaha, Nebraska. It’s 1986 and Eleanor and Park go to the same high school. Eleanor is joining mid term and her first day on the bus establishes the dynamics between all the characters. Tina and Steve sit at the back. Tina is the popular girl. Steve is the loud mouth. Park is half Korean, but nobody in Omaha really gets that. His mother Min Dae (Mindy) married his father when he served in Korea. Park is the skinny Asian kid, but is relatively free of the bullying that the kids save for Eleanor. All the high school antics are detailed in this novel, including the hiding of someone’s clothes during gym class.
When Eleanor gets on the bus on her first day, she is an immediate draw for the bullies, especially Tina. Her clothes are patchworked and from the charity store. She has big bushy red hair and is defiant. Nobody will let her sit with them. Finally, Park, embarrassed for her, demands that she sit. He moves over for her.
What follows are dual narratives by Eleanor and Park and their differing perspectives on the intersecting aspects of their high school days. It’s a cute, he said/she said, look at typical teenager inner thoughts. The insights into Eleanor’s situation depict a troubled home life, poverty and life with an abusive parent, in this case a short-tempered stepfather who is an alcoholic, drug user.
Eleanor and Park fall for each other over Watchmen comics and mixed tapes traded in secret on the bus. What starts as a simple gesture of giving up a seat moves to public displays of affection on the bus and dating in secret.
In broad terms, the novel is a tragic tale of young love in a poor neighbourhood. It’s not so much the Romeo and Juliet story in that there is only one family not keen on the relationship. Eleanor’s stepfather has already kicked her out of the house once. She is back on probation. There are 5 kids in all, the stepfather is abusing the mom and she is too exhausted to run. They are all stuck. Park is Eleanor’s salvation in the way that first loves are game changers. In the end the two are driven apart but there is still a redemptive ending, which I won’t spoil.
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
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