Title: Eleanor & Park
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Release Date: March, 2013
The back cover of Eleanor & Park compares it to Looking for Alaska by John Green. Needless to say, I had high hopes from the start. I was not disappointed.
Eleanor & Park is a romance, and it’s pretty heavy on the romance. If you hate love stories, this might not be your book. But if you’re simply sick of boring, predictable, over-the-top-cheesy love stories, you’re in for a treat. Eleanor & Park is the story of (you guessed it) Eleanor and Park, two high school sophomores living in Omaha, Nebraska in 1986. Eleanor is new to the neighborhood; Park has lived there his whole life. They come from very different backgrounds and live very different lives, but they share a love of comic books and rock music, as well as the feeling of being an outsider. Although the entire book is written in third person, it switches off between Eleanor’s story and Park’s, allowing readers to connect to both characters’ lives.
Eleanor has just moved to her mom and stepdad’s tiny new house, where she has to share a room with her four younger brother and sisters. She hasn’t seen her family in the year since her stepdad kicked her out of the house, but thanks to her mother’s insistence, she’s coming to live with them. Eleanor’s flaming, red, curly hair; thrift-store, self-patched clothes and accessories; and large, plump body make her stand out, even when all she wants is to be invisible. Most of the other students at school are cold, unfriendly, and mean to her, and Eleanor gets no relief at home, where her stepdad drinks too much, treats her mother like a servant, and has made it clear that he does not want Eleanor back in his house. All Eleanor needs is someone who understands her, someone who embraces her when she’s in a good or bad mood, someone who is willing to accept her strange home life… someone like Park.
Park feels like the only half-Korean kid in his school. It’s not usually upsetting to him, even when the other boys make racist jokes, but sometimes it gets under his skin, like when he hears his mother’s thick Korean accent. Park and his younger brother have taken taekwondo since kindergarten, but nobody realizes that it’s not because they’re Asian – their Caucasian father is the one in the family who loves martial arts. Park’s father thinks masculinity is important, something he is trying to instill in Park, by forcing him to learn to drive a stick shift before he gets his driver’s license. All Park needs is someone who understands him, someone he can talk with, someone who makes him feel good about himself… someone like Eleanor.
Eleanor and Park meet on the bus to school. Despite their initial silence, they bond over comic books and music. They get to know each other’s strong points and flaws, and through the separate narratives for both characters, readers see that soon, both Eleanor and Park live for each other. They realize that they’re in high school, and that everyone says high school love doesn’t last; nonetheless, they’re determined to try, for neither can imagine life without the other. (It interested me to learn that author Rainbow Rowell met her husband in junior high, so she’s quite the expert on lasting relationships.) However, Eleanor’s stepdad is threatening to tear her family – and her future with Park (whom her family doesn’t know about) – apart. Can love truly conquer all? Eleanor & Park is an attempt to answer that question.
I absolutely loved this book. I liked both the character of Eleanor and of Park, and appreciated the strengths and weaknesses of both. The detail is exquisite in a way that isn’t forceful or overpowering, but leaves the reader feeling as if he or she knows the characters extremely well. I liked how it was told in the 1980s – recent enough for teens today to connect with the story, but set in a time where communication without texting or Facebook was a reality. I read this book over the course of one day – it was so compelling that I didn’t want to stop reading; I wanted to find out what happens to Eleanor and Park (although you’re left guessing up until the very last page).
I highly recommend this book to both male and female young adult readers who enjoy (or even tolerate) the romance genre. This is a fresh, intense, beautiful take on a high school romance. From the first time they hold hands on the bus, you’ll be rooting for Eleanor and Park’s relationship. I encourage you to give this book a try. I sincerely hope it will be read, talked about, and given the praise I believe it deserves.
– Katie (:
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