Eleanor & Park: It'll Take You Back Faster Than a Whiff of Unwashed Gym Suit.

April 4, 2013 Blogging, Family, Humor, Personal, Romance, Young Adult Fiction 64

Sup Bookworms?!

I say “sup” because that was the thing to say when I was in high school. During high school,  I absolutely refused to use the term on the grounds that contractions should use apostrophes. I also wrote song lyrics out on the backs of all the notes I passed between classes and pasted magazine photo collages of grunge rockers onto my notebooks. (A 16 year old girl is a 16 year old girl, no matter her taste in music.)

I know what you’re thinking. “Yes, Katie. We KNOW you were a cantankerous teenager. You wrote about it once, plus, you’re a blogger. An awkward adolescence is a prerequisite, right?” I swear I have a point. The point is, I just read Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell and it took me back to high school faster than whiff of unwashed gym suit.

eleanor & parkHere’s the deal. It’s 1986. Eleanor is the new girl in school. She’s on the curvy side and has wild red hair. Her first day of school, she is denied a seat on the bus by everyone (in a move of calculated cruelty that is innate to the teenage of the species) EXCEPT a half Korean kid named Park. Eleanor and Park don’t fall in love immediately. In fact, they don’t even speak. They only begin to break the ice when Park notices that Eleanor has been reading his comic books out of the corner of her eye.

Eleanor’s got a whole lot of crap going on in her home life. She and her 4 siblings live in squalor with their abusive stepfather and their once vibrant mother (who like many abused women has become a shell of her former self.) Eleanor is in no position to be starting a relationship, but as she and Park progress from friendship to hand holding, she knows she’s a goner.

THIS BOOK! It does for YA novels what Freaks and Geeks did for high school on television. My high school experience was not Gossip Girl or Friday Night Lights. My high school experience was a whirlwind of awkward encounters and intense relationships that never materialized. Where hand holding could be MAJOR. It was so refreshing to read about an imperfect heroine who wasn’t conventionally beautiful. Sure, Eleanor has her good features, but she’s not a girl who is drop-dead-gorgeous without realizing it (cough, cough, Bella Swan.) And Park? Park is a short Asian kid who experiments with guy-liner. I challenge you to find me another YA leading man who is 5’4. Even Harry Potter was tall!

No, I didn’t listen to The Cure on my walkman on the bus, mostly because I didn’t go to high school in 1986. (I listened to The Counting Crows on my discman. Very skippy, the discman.) Even though my gym suit was definitely less horrifying than Eleanor’s polyester onesie, I dreaded gym class. My junior year, I was hit in the head with EVERY SINGLE BALL we used. I only wish I were exaggerating. I was beaned with a soccer ball, basketball, volleyball, hockey puck, tennis ball, football, softball, and the absolute pinnacle of my humiliation? Badminton birdie. I wasn’t subject to intense bullying (although I still do not have good thoughts about that girl with the slicked back ponytail and sinister eyeliner who always laughed at magnetic melon…) I didn’t have a messy home life either, but this book isn’t about winning the screwed up teen experience award. This book is about capturing the essence of being 16. It’s about first love and identity crises and confusion and the occasional glimmer greatness beneath the awkward.

I chewed through this book in two days and had to let it marinate in my brain juices before I could form coherent thoughts. Katie + Eleanor & Park = Love. The soundtracks may change, but high school will always be the same. Rainbow Rowell gets that, and for that, I salute her. (Insert well timed slow clap.)

Alright bookworms. Please tell me I’m not alone here. Let’s take this opportunity to share our most horrifying gym class experiences. It’ll be like group therapy. Ready? Go!

64 Responses to “Eleanor & Park: It'll Take You Back Faster Than a Whiff of Unwashed Gym Suit.”

  1. middleagebutch

    Confession: I was a jock, so the gym teacher always used me to demonstrate the proper way to shoot a basket or bounce pass a ball. The one-piece gym uniforms were hideous and embarrassing, not to mention the fact that our high school had a pool, which meant being totally naked while changing into and out of the school-issued suit. Yes, that’s right, shared swimsuits. I am cringing as I type.

    • Words for Worms

      Oh man! We had shorts and t-shirts at least, and my school was too poor to afford the pool they’d built into the school, so they covered it with a dry gymnasium floor. Gym class was apparently a trial for us ALL!

  2. shellakers

    I graduated in 1984 and listened to Def Lepard and Heart. In the later 80’s, early 90’s, it was the Cure. lol And then the Cult. I and totally relate to this book because it sounds like my life. Can’t wait to read it. Tanks for the heads up 🙂 Loved your review!

      • shellakers

        ROFLMAO!!! My kids look SO forward when they drive with me and I pop Heart in, roll those windows down and sing as LOUD as my voice can sing. And I’m LOUD. And there’s the shower… oh how my family adores my version of Barracuda! NOT. lmao Good times, good times… I keep telling them how cool I was in hs… they just don’t seem to care all that much 🙁

  3. Sarah Says Read

    “The soundtracks may change, but high school will always be the same. Rainbow Rowell gets that, and for that, I salute her.”

    YES! She NAILED it!

    I don’t have any super-embarrassing gym stories that I can think of, because I usually just said I didn’t feel good and sat there watching the other kids. I still usually passed with a C or a B (well, that was in middle school). My high school didn’t have a gym or gym class, so you had to choose an activity to use as PE credit – mine was getting a pedometer and walking a certain amount every week, accomplished pretty well since I walked to and from school.

    So anyways, yes, this book. It rocked my socks.

    • Words for Worms

      Stupid gym requirements! They put that in our GPA! I was actually fairly lithe, I mean, aside from the getting hit in the head thing. I used to push myself like crazy so I’d hit the “A” requirements and my GPA wouldn’t get dragged down. There was a time when I could do 40 push ups, man style. (Oh, and I read this book because you raved about loving it so THANK YOU!)

  4. Nadia

    Me want! This book sounds so good!! I read about it on another blog and knew I wanted it, but after your post, I really really really want it!!! As for bad gym memories – I got beaned in the head with a baseball and felt so embarrassed that I’m pretty sure I turned beet read (plus, I wound up with a major headache the whole day). UGH!!! By the way, great post – loved it!!

    • Words for Worms

      I so FEEL you on the getting beaned with a baseball! I have been there many, many, many times. Badminton birdie. It doesn’t hurt, but it gets stuck in your hair. The shame, oh the shame…

  5. A.M.B.

    I’ve had this book on my list. I’ve been looking forward to it ever since reading Rowell’s “Attachments,” which is a cute rom com book.

      • A.M.B.

        I don’t know how it compares to Eleanor & Park, but it’s really cute. Lincoln reminded me a bit of my husband. Do you read Molly’s blog (Wrapped Up in Books)? She wrote great reviews of both books. I talked about Attachments on my blog in early/mid January this year and I have a link to Molly’s review there.

  6. JoulesDellinger

    I’m sure I have a ton of bad gym memories that I have totally blocked out. Just to give you a visual, we were required to start each gym class by doing a choreographed routine to “Rock the Cradle of Love” — which is why I get all twitchy and start flailing my arms around if it ever comes on the radio.

    One fun gym memory is the year some of us girls convinced the instructors to let us have an aerobics breakout group during gym, and we pretty much just hung out in a side room until someone walked by and then we jumped up and pretended that we’d been “sweating to the oldies” the whole time…

    • Words for Worms

      We had to do this arm routine to “Maniac!” It was ridiculous, and now I can’t hear the song without remembering all the stupid moves. Ugh. Way to work the system, Joules. Getting out of gym class not smelling like a sock is a feat, you know?!

  7. Laura Lynn

    I broke the lower uneven parallel bar with my back. Yes, nightmare. Knocked the wind out of myself, huge bruise, giant humiliation to say NOTHING of the fact that Ms. Page and her gym girl coterie were really pissed that I’d done it. Didn’t matter that Susan and Dumb Ass were supposed to be ‘spotting’ me and were looking at manicures. I heard that crrraaacck and couldn’t breathe. Thought I was dying. So sad to die with horrid gym coterie looking at you like you’re a bug. An ugly alien bug. Fortunately, it was the end of the school year so I ruined it for ‘gym camp’ since they couldn’t fix it before the end of the term. Whew! A tiny bit of revenge…I’ll take it.

  8. derb523622013

    The YA genre is my guilty pleasure and it’s so refreshing to hear that other ‘so-called’ grown men and women will read YA. I’m 50, so I’m right there with the blasting of HEART and Barracuda during the H.S. years. First concert was a Kiss concert,was lucky enough to see Freddie Mercury and Queen perform, as well as YES and Pink Floyd. Can’t wait to pick up this book. No embarrassing gym stories as I was so non-athletic, except maybe the day our stoner gym teacher recognized that my friend and I were extremely high and instead of putting us through the paces, made us stand together with our noses against the stinkiest locker in the changing rooms, giggling the whole 40 minutes.

  9. RebeccaScaglione - Love at First Book

    I stopped in the middle of your review to add this book to my to-read checklist on my phone.

    Anyway, my 10 year high school reunion is happening this summer and guess what! I’m totally not going. I could care less! Yeah, it’d be nice to see people for like 5 seconds but I kept in touch with who I wanted to and can see who got fat, married, etc on FB. So yeah, high school is in the past for a reason.

    I don’t have horror stories of high school or gym class but I did take one gym class of aerobics one year, and the teacher was such a biotch! Her daughter was on the cheerleading squad (because she was the coach, I’m sure!) and she was cruel to everyone who wasn’t a cheerleader and super nice to the ones who were, like she was trying to fit in or something. Gag me! BTW, I was not a cheerleader.

    • Words for Worms

      Yes! Facebook eliminates the need for reunion attendance. I sure didn’t attend mine! I think there’s always that one teacher in every high school who is trying to compensate for their own crappy high school experience by making everyone else’s suck.

  10. Samantha

    Now I want to read this book.

    I’m sure there’s tons of bad gym memories, I have never been athletic. I did play basketball for two years in high school, but was often on the bench. My cousin ended up coaching, and he’d say that I ran like I was pulling a trailer behind me. Oh well. At least I got to hang out with him, because most of the girls were snotty and way more athletic than me. I also got hit in the face with balls several times. I think senior year I chose to take study hall instead of P.E. because I had gotten all of my credits, it was amazing. I sat on the bleachers outside the cafe in the sunshine and read or write to my heart’s content. Fabulous.

    • Words for Worms

      I think there were ways to get around PE… Being in the marching band for one… I think there was a possibility of an academic waiver, but that would have required me taking calculus, which just wasn’t going to happen. I’m jealous of your sunshine reading hour!

  11. 1WriteWay

    I graduated in ’75 … Happily so long ago. I hated high school and especially gym … Faked my period and/or cramps whenever I could ;). Listening to James Taylor and Carole King kept me going. Great review, by the way!

    • Words for Worms

      Thanks! 🙂 Our gym teachers were immune to the craps excuse. Or at least, if we tried to use it, we had to do a make up gym class. MAKE UP GYM CLASS. They made us run in circles wearing a heart monitor. It was hideous and unfair and horrible.

  12. Monika (@lovelybookshelf)

    I want to read this, especially now that you’ve compared it to the awesomeness that is Freaks and Geeks!!! LOL

    I was a music geek (played piano for the chorus for half my high school years, was in the band for the last half) and we were pretty contained in our own little world. My school was kind of… ehhhh not the best environment… so most of us in the music program would retreat to the music department rooms during lunch and other social hours. It was a safe haven and really, the dorky things we did during our “free time” at school ended up contributing to me being a musician today. 🙂 Graduated in ’94 btw.

    Great review!

  13. Brittany

    Yes, absolutely! LOVE LOVE LOVE.
    Dude, I totally need to watch Freaks & Geeks. Look at all those people who came from the show! Incredible.
    Anyway. I’m simply in love with Eleanor & Park. It was such a touching story and so much more than I had initially expected!

    • Words for Worms

      Freaks & Geeks was amazing. There was one episode where the little brother switched the order on his sister’s keg to “near beer” but all the kids thought they were drunk anyway… Ahhh good times.

  14. Megan M.

    I want to read this so bad! I’m the same, I guess… I don’t think of myself as being “bullied” but I was definitely a target for teasing and well… gym balls. I was (and still am!) very awkward and shy. The worst experience of my high school life happened my junior year in science class. It was near the end of the year so we were pretty much doing nothing but talking, and all of the guys in the class were talking in one big group. There was one guy who was listing every single girl in the class and talking about what about her he found “cute” or “pretty.” Then he got to me. He talked – loudly I might add – about how ugly he thought I was for a good five minutes. I was sitting right behind him and heard every word. I still wish I’d said something.

  15. Shannon

    Okay, that was it. I’ve been seeing this book everywhere, but the Freaks and Geeks comparison finally did it for me. I NEED IT NOW. Thank you!

  16. Jenny

    My high school PE program let you do swimming for a gym elective — they would put us on a bus and take us to the YMCA nearby, which I guess maybe had a deal with the school? I don’t know, and anyway we would swim laps there. I did yoga as my PE class the second year, and all in all I was almost completely spared the humiliations of high school gym classes. And a damn good thing because I am very uncoordinated and weak and I hate team sports.

  17. annesquared

    I was bored by gym class so I got a doctor’s note for my three years in high school. The sweet old D.O. said tall, thing, people shouldn’t have to do sports if they don’t want to. (I think he was referring to gymnastics, but I had him keep stretching the excuse until it was permanent. This dates me quite a bit, but back then, at least where I lived, D.O.s did not practice like today, like their MD counterparts.)
    But I was obtained lifeguard certification through school, and swam regularly. Rode my bike… walked a lot. My gym time was spent in the library (“heaven”) as a volunteer and later taking classes. One of my favorite places, to this day, is the library at the med school.
    My kids think I am such a nerd, but I was quite the wild child in high school. Ok, the nerdy wild child. I don’t think they are mutually exclusive.

  18. Heather

    My middle school and high school years were full of horrifying experiences…but I don’t think any of them had anything to do with gym class. A few of them *happened* during gym class, but had nothing to do with the actual class.

  19. Megan M.

    OMG, OMG, I finally got around to reading this and I stayed up until 3:15 am to finish it because I was absolutely in love! This book is not my boyfriend. This book is a CHAMPION.

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