Have you ever loved a book so much that you were almost afraid to recommend it to people? Because it meant so much to you that if someone else read it and wasn't moved by it, that would feel like being crushed. Like being rejected.
That's how I feel about Eleanor and Park.
I don't think I can do justice with a summary, so I'm just going to link to the Wikipedia entry.
The book contains references to abuse, so TW for that. I'll also warn you that this book is a crying book. If I had known how much of a crying book it was, I might have put off reading it for a bit.
Eleanor is fat. And it's so rare to see a fat character in any medium, especially one who is the object of a love story. It makes me feel invisible, that it's so unusual for fat girls to be portrayed at all. If you do see fat people, they are almost always the butt of a joke. But the way Rainbow Rowell talks about Eleanor's fatness rings so true to me. True like being hit in the stomach, shocking and painful, where it's hard to even breathe.
"When Eleanor was around girls like that - like Park's mom, like Tina, like most of the girls in the neighborhood - she wondered where they put their organs. Like, how could you have a stomach and intestines and kidneys, and still wear such tiny jeans? Eleanor knew she was fat, but she didn't feel that fat. She could feel her bones and muscles just underneath all the chub, and they were big, too. Park's mom could wear Eleanor's rib cage like a roomy vest."
YES. I want to scream YES at this, and it means so much to see it written down by someone else. Like, we do exist. We are here, and we exist.
I think I needed this book when I was a teenager, but I don't know if I would have liked it then. I didn't have much time for crying at that age. I was too focused on just surviving.
I think I might have been angry at this book. I might have been angry and hated it. It would have been too painful, too close to my life.
I remember in high school, having a meeting with the school counselor where he asked me if I was having problems at home. He asked me like he knew there was something wrong. I just stared at him, slouching in my chair, this adult who couldn't help me.
How could I ever explain what my life was like to him or anyone else? The screaming and the threats. The never ending church attendance which became more suffocating by the day. The forced diets and forced exercising- past all bodily endurance. The sister who hated me.
It was made clear that there would be no escape, no way out.
It's hard to walk around dragged down by the things you can't tell people, that you know they would never understand. It's exhausting.
I see myself in Eleanor. I see myself in her so hard. I didn't have it quite so bad as she does, but I see myself there, fighting to get myself away and fighting to become the person I wanted to be. In the music that gave me a shot at imagining something more for myself.
Teenage me would not have had time for this book, but as an adult, it has cracked my heart open.