Bono met his wife in high school, Park says.
So did Jerry Lee Lewis, Eleanor answers.
I’m not kidding, he says.
You should be, she says, we’re 16.
What about Romeo and Juliet?
Shallow, confused, then dead.
I love you, Park says.
Wherefore art thou, Eleanor answers.
I’m not kidding, he says.
You should be.
Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love—and just how hard it pulled you under. (Publisher’s summary)
1. The love that Eleanor and Park share is incredibly mature. Are you a believer in finding you’re person at such an early age? What young literary couples spoke to you when you were a teen?
Thank you! I do think you can find true love at that age. But I think it’s really hard to hold on to. If you think about how brash and volatile — and raw — you can be at 16 . . . I actually met my husband in junior high, but he didn’t ask me out until after college. When I asked him why he’d waited, he said something like, “Don’t you think we’d have ruined it?”
But I do think you can make young love last. Three of my siblings are (still) (happily) married to people they started dating at 16 or 17.
As for literary couples, I really shied away from reading romance of any kind as a teenager. My favorite literary couple now are Jamie and Claire from Outlander. (Sigh.)
2. We talked about this on Twitter, but as a woman married to an Asian man, I loved that you didn’t downplay Park’s Korean features/characteristics. I often feel that multicultural characters are “whitewashed” in YA, so thank you for allowing him to look Asian! Were you at all worried that some girls wouldn’t find him as swoon-worthy as the more obvious tall, blue-eyed love interests?
Again — thank you! I really wanted Park to look Korean. I didn’t want it to be like, “Yeah, he’s Korean, but don’t worry, he’s tall and broad, and conventionally attractive in a very European way.”
One of my good friends from school is Chinese, and I can remember how hard it was for him — in junior high, especially — to be the only Asian guy. To be shorter and slimmer. To have different hair.
I think it’s scary, as a white author, to describe characters of another race or to write from their point of view — you don’t want to be insensitive or ignorant. But, with Park, I just tried not to worry about it.
Eleanor is in love with him; she thinks he’s gorgeous. And not because he looks like a Abercrombie model. She thinks he’s gorgeous because he looks like himself.
I wanted the reader to swoon for him, too. (And I guess I trusted the reader not to get hung up on it.)
3. Music was such an integral part of the book, as you’ve discussed on Twitter. How did you decide which artists/songs Eleanor and Park would bond over, and are those musicians part of your personal high-school soundtrack?
Definitely the music in the book was personal to me. I’m only a little bit younger than the characters, so the Smiths, the Cure, U2 — those are all bands that had a huge impact on me as a teenager.
I wanted to write about how exciting alternative music and culture were when they first started seeping into the Midwest. Before the Internet, we were so insulated from the rest of the world. I remember hearing U2 for the first time and feeling this buzzing in my stomach, like What is this? Where is it coming from? How do I get more?
I’ve put together playlists for the book. You can read about them here.
4. Even after just one book, I consider you on par with my favorites in the contemporary YA space, like Gayle Forman, Melina Marchetta and Sara Zarr. Like them, you’re wonderful at crafting characters who are troubled but heal each other, who are beautiful in their misfitdom, who experience a “forever” kind of love even at a young age. Which Young Adult authors are your favorites/inspirations?
Wow. Thank you. That’s amazing company.
As far as YA love stories, I loved Where She Went by Gayle Forman and Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins.
When I was writing Eleanor & Park, I was really into Buffy the Vampire Slayer, specifically Spike, who I think is the best romantic character, maybe ever. I love the way his relationship with Buffy builds slowly, and the way they both change within the relationship.
Also, I read out loud to my kids at night, and lately I’ve been fascinated by Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary — and the way they both CLIMB INTO characters’ heads when they write. When you’re reading one of their books, the voice is just seamless.
5. With the popularity of multiple-book series, I couldn’t help but wonder if Eleanor and Park could compel you to write a companion novel set in the future, or to revisit them in a book centered around other characters in the story. Do Eleanor and Park “speak to you” about their future, and do you think you’d ever want to tell more of their story?
YES. I was writing a sequel while I was writing it. I knew that Eleanor and Park weren’t going to get a big happy ending. (Because 17-year-olds don’t get endings; they get beginnings.) But my brain needed to know they’d be okay. That they’d get some resolution.
I don’t know if a publisher would ever want a sequel — because I want to write about them when they’re 30 — but I have it all plotted out in my head: where they end up, what they’re struggling with, what they mean to each other.
6. With the popularity of YA on the big screen, we couldn’t help but imagine this story being a fantastic teen romance/coming-of-age story. Do you ever wonder who could play your characters or see an actor and think “he/she would make a great Park/Eleanor/etc”?
I don’t really think that — because both of these characters are so far outside of the Hollywood norm in their appearance. I’d love it if the book became a movie, but I’d HATE to seem either of them played by some generically beautiful/handsome/skinny actor or actress. Looking different is part of their identity and their story.
That said, I love Alia Shawkat, and thought about her freckles and her energy when I was writing Eleanor.
7. You also wrote a romantic comedy for adults. What are the big differences or challenges between writing for and about adults and writing for/about teens?
Hmmm. That’s a good question. I might not be the right person to answer it. I approached the books differently — because Attachments is much more of a bouncy, twisty romantic comedy. I wanted that book to feel like honey — light and easy, but real.
Eleanor & Park is much more intense. There’s more urgency.
But, in both cases, I just tried to get inside the main characters and stay there. I never consciously shifted between adult and YA.
8. Tell us what you’re working on next. Is it another teen romance?
It is! My next book comes out in September, and it’s called Fangirl. (You can read more about it here.)
It’s about a college freshman, a girl with a twin sister who sort of abandons her just before school starts. It’s about the girl, Cath, trying to decide if she can make it — if she even wants to make it — on her own. The official summary is “A coming-of-age tale of fanfiction, family and first love.”
Right now, I’m writing my fourth book, another adult novel, this one with a sci-fi twist.
Many, many thanks to Rainbow for taking the time to answer our questions the week before her book hits bookstores! And to St. Martin’s Press for sending us all copies of the book to review (and treasure!). Here’s your chance to win a copy of “Eleanor & Park.”