My copy of E&P was a gift from Anna. Knowing I’m not really a book buyer, she wrote on the title page, “I know you love the library, but you’ll want to own this one.” She was totally right. I sat down to reread the first 15 chapters for this post and before I knew it I was halfway through the book and running late for work. I will never get over this book and I’m so glad to have it in my collection.
There are two big turning points in these chapters. For the first time we see the depth of what Eleanor is dealing with at home. We could see that her new environment was unpleasant and unfamiliar, but the unspoken tension between Eleanor and her mom and the distance she feels from her siblings are just side effects of the bigger issue: Richie’s violence. After a long night hunkered down with her siblings, trying to block out the sounds of a beating, Eleanor wakes up and is relieved to smell bacon, because it “[means] that her mother [is] alive (49).” If your heart didn’t drop to your feet when you read that, it’s because you don’t have one. I just want to hug Eleanor. The smallest of her problems is that she has to go to school smelling like pee, which by itself would be enough to send me into a tailspin.
The second turning point (the happy one) is that Eleanor and Park stop kidding themselves about their growing crushes. Park lets himself think of Eleanor by name (one of my favorite moments, p. 53). They allow themselves to smile when they see each other on the bus. Eleanor still frets about revealing too much—“If Park were to look up at her now, he’d know everything (71)”—but once Park makes his first move, they’re done dancing around their feelings. The scene where Park reels in Eleanor’s hand with her weird wrist scarf is just so dreamy. I mean, we all disintegrated when we read that, right?
Nothing makes you feel as vulnerable as harboring a possibly one-sided crush, but once you’re honest with yourself, you realize how much effort it had taken to pretend not to care. Since she has to be hyper-vigilant at home, I can only imagine what an incredible relief it must be for Eleanor to let her guard down in this one area of her life.
- I googled “gym suit” and, dear God, who could look good in that? I break into a cold sweat at the thought of having to wear that thing in front of people. And as my 15-year-old self? Forget it.
- I love how Eleanor listens to the mixtape until the voices slow to a stop. What a perfect detail. We never seemed to have enough batteries in my house, so I’d use them up until the last possible second, because I needed my music or I’d just DIE.
- “Maybe I’m not attracted to real girls. Maybe I’m some sort of perverted cartoon-sexual (72).” HA. I think I’ve seen that TLC special.
E&P reminds me of If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson. Jeremiah, who is black, and Elisha, who is white, meet at a fancy Manhattan prep school and, of course, fall in love. Both have problems at home, which are compounded by the racism they face as a couple. What I loved about these chapters of E&P is how well Eleanor and Park’s early interactions and dialogue convey their chemistry. You can really see why they like each other. It’s such a simple thing, but it’s missing from a lot of love stories. In If You Come Softly, even though Miah and Ellie feel Romeo-and-Juliet-style thunderbolts at first sight, the subsequent courtship is a realistic slow burn.
Also, I guess I should recommend TLC’s docu-series Strange Sex. Cartoon-sexuals!