We’ve celebrated the book “Eleanor & Park” as well as Rainbow Rowell several times, but recently I realized that we had never actually celebrated the protagonists in this particular feature. How could we have forgotten to write about them as couple? We loved them from the beginning and want to once again remind everyone why they’re such an amazing couple.
Couple: Eleanor Douglas and Park Sheridan from “Eleanor & Park” by Rainbow Rowell
Ages: They are both 16
Who Are They? Eleanor is a new girl at school. She has red hair, a curvier than usual body, and a eclectic style. in clothes. The oldest of five children, she lives with her mother, step-father and little siblings. Eleanor’s family is poor, so she has few material possessions. She has a keen mind, a curiosity about literature, music, comics, and art, and a guarded heart she shares with very few people. An outcast at school, she has to endure a lot of teasing, like the daily taunt of “Big Red.”
Park has lived in the same Omaha neighborhood his whole life, but he feels like an outsider due to his mixed heritage. He is half Irish-American and half Korean (his parents met when his father was stationed in Korea) and struggles with the fact that he looks much more Asian (he’s compact and lean) than his huge little brother. A comic book aficionado, Park loves new wave music, movies, and graphic novels. He has one brother and a stable family life that contrasts Eleanor’s difficult, dysfunctional family.
Why Do We Love Them: Rowell unfolds Eleanor and Park’s story slowly. First, Eleanor is the new, weird girl who gets on the bus and has nowhere else to sit until Park literally curses at her to take a seat next to him. The beauty of their relationship is that at first they don’t even talk to each other. It’s a slow, slow burn that begins when Eleanor starts looking at his comic books, reading them over his shoulder and eventually borrowing them to read at home. They also listen to his music together, starting with The Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now.” Once they make a connection through pop culture, they can’t wait to see each other on the bus. They become each other’s sanctuary, secret-keeper, truth-teller, and as Eleanor calls Park, a “champion.”
From the beginning, you want Park and Eleanor to be the real thing, even though she is much more skeptical than he is about their future. She’s the practical pessimist who doesn’t think Park could possibly love her as much as she loves him, but after much heartbreak, they deserve the happiness they’ve found, and you NEED them to be together.
Park on Eleanor:
“Eleanor was right. She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.”
“Holding Eleanor’s hand was like holding a butterfly. Or a heartbeat. Like holding something complete, and completely alive.”
Eleanor on Park:
“I don’t like you, Park,” she said, sounding for a second like she actually meant it. “I…” – her voice nearly disappeared – “think I live for you.”
He closed his eyes and pressed his head back into his pillow.
“I don’t think I even breathe when we’re not together,” she whispered. “Which means, when I see you on Monday morning, it’s been like sixty hours since I’ve taken a breath. That’s probably why I’m so crabby, and why I snap at you. All I do when we’re apart is think about you, and all I do when we’re together is panic. Because every second feels so important. And because I’m so out of control, I can’t help myself. I’m not even mine anymore, I’m yours, and what if you decide that you don’t want me? How could you want me like I want you?”
“Damn, damn, damn,” she said. “I never said why I like you, and now I have to go.”
“That’s okay,” he said.
“It’s because you’re kind,” she said. “And because you get all my jokes…”
“Okay.” He laughed.
“And you’re smarter than I am.”
“I am not.”
“And you look like a protagonist.” She was talking as fast as she could think. “You look like the person who wins in the end. You’re so pretty, and so good. You have magic eyes,” she whispered. “And you make me feel like a cannibal.”
“I have to go.” She leaned over so the receiver was close to the base.
Fan art courtesy of Simini Blocker (left)