These final chapters are so sweet and sad. Eleanor is adjusting to her new life with her aunt and uncle. Park is sleepwalking through junior year, eventually becoming numb to the sting of Eleanor’s silence. As much as I feel Park’s pain, I’m just so relieved for Eleanor. She has new clothes that fit and her own boombox and blank tapes. And unlimited postage stamps! Someone cares enough to make her go to school and even drives her there every day. Her home life has gone from a tense tightrope walk to a peaceful sanctuary overnight. No wonder it takes her a full year to reach out to Park; I’m sure she’s barely been able to catch her breath.
Eleanor & Park drew controversy when a school visit was cancelled due to parent complaints about the book’s content. To no one’s surprise, Rowell’s response was poignant, intelligent, and articulate: “When these people call Eleanor & Park an obscene story, I feel like they’re saying that rising above your situation isn’t possible. That if you grow up in an ugly situation, your story isn’t even fit for good people’s ears. That ugly things cancel out everything beautiful.” Clearly, Rowell means this story to be about hope. Even in the middle of Park’s non-showdown with Richie, perhaps the darkest point of Park’s life so far, we are reminded of the best thing in life. Park is sure that he could never feel anything as strongly as the hate he feels for Richie. . . almost. What’s unsaid is how much more powerful his love for Eleanor is.
We don’t need to know what the three words on that postcard are (although, sidenote to Rainbow: I won’t be mad if you want to tell me). We don’t need a sequel detailing their picture perfect reunion. It’s enough to know that the characters we love are okay for now— and to believe that they are headed back toward the highest of highs.
In Gary Schmidt’s Okay for Now, Doug Swieteck, a fourteen-year-old self-proclaimed “skinny thug,” has just moved to a new town, but somehow his family’s bad reputation has followed them. His father has just been fired and he expresses his frustration through violence; his cruel behavior is echoed by Doug’s troubled older brother, who seems perfectly happy being known as the town bully. On top of that, Doug is misunderstood by his teachers and prejudged by his peers. So, where does he eventually find an ally? His local public library, of course.
I immediately thought of this book when I heard Rowell’s comments about the E&P controversy. I love Doug’s incredible optimism in a terrible situation. Mr. Powell, the librarian, gives Doug a chance to hone his talent and assures him that his circumstances don’t define him. Like Eleanor & Park, it’s not a story about love turning someone’s life around and obliterating all that’s bad in the world. It’s about the modest but beautiful changes that the approval and encouragement of just one person can create in another person’s life.