Eleanor and Park: Two Young Outcasts

Eleanor and Park

Have you ever laughed at a kid who wore the same ripped jeans five days in a row (until they started to smell)? Or at a girl who never combed her hair? Or wore weird clothes? Or at a boy who wore liner? Or preferred comic books to football? Alternate music to getting drunk? If you have, you might want to grab a copy of Rainbow Rowell’s break-out young adult novel Eleanor and Park.

Eleanor and Park is a cute story about what it’s like to not fit in. And more importantly, the “whys” behind that not fitting in. Maybe the most praise-worthy attribute of this book is that it helps us to think about what happens in the privacy of people’s homes, of why someone is behaving the way she is—or not behaving the way we want her to. People’s stories are more tragic, more complex, and more heart-breaking than we can possibly imagine. It’s easy to make fun of people who look different. Of the fat girl with out-of-control red hair and freckles. Of the girl who doesn’t eat a lot, because her family often doesn’t have enough food on the table, but who gets fat anyway. Of the girl who can’t afford to buy the right shampoos and conditioners for her hair. Of the girl we think looks weird because she uses men’s ties for accessories.

The next time we see a girl wearing the same pants all week, or with uncombed, unruly hair, I hope we will think about what we are seeing. From what we learn from Eleanor, that girl may be impoverished, or abused, or in need of our compassion and not our contempt. The next time we see a young man who has opted for liner, maybe we will now think about why that choice means something to him. That’s the power of great literature: it encourages us to think about people and their lives–lives that we often push to the edge of our conscious minds.

Have you ever been laughed at, picked on or bullied because you look different from the rest of the kids in your school? Or have you been the one doing the laughing? Share your stories here. Each story is one step closer to someone else understanding you.

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