Eleanor and Park – Rainbow Rowell
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance, Realistic Fiction
Summary: Eleanor isn’t your typical heroine. In fact, she’s a little bit awkward, a little bit overweight, and has the craziest red hair you’ve ever seen. On her first day of school, after nobody will let her sit next to them on the bus, a boy named Park moves over a bit to give her his extra seat, but like everyone else, looks at Eleanor with derision. Park is pretty nerdy himself and knows he’s hanging by a thread as far as being bothered by bullies is concerned, so he really has to be careful about whom he aligns himself with. Will they ever find common ground?
Review: I’ve read a lot of positive reviews for Eleanor and Park, so it probably goes without saying (but I’m obviously going to say it anyway) that I was pretty excited to read this book. Ultimately, I really liked it and am glad I moved it up on my TBR list.
One of the biggest strengths of Eleanor and Park was definitely the characters themselves. I thought it was really great that Eleanor and Park weren’t the type of people that elicit envious glances from everyone around them, but rather, were normal teenagers trying their best to make it through high school without too many embarrassing incidents. While Park’s actions often made me mad in the beginning of the book, it made perfect sense that he would act the way he did towards Eleanor. In high school, it seems like so many people want to just blend into the background so they aren’t targets, so the scorn he volleyed at Eleanor didn’t really seem out of place.
Similarly, Eleanor was incredibly compelling. I liked that she was a real girl that others could relate to, instead of the picture of perfection that is often portrayed in YA. Her story was complex and sad, and I was rooting for her throughout the entire book. In the same vein, her family dynamics were interesting and distressing, and I often turned the pages in disbelief at the horror she endured.
The development of the relationship between Eleanor and Park was also fun to watch. It was great to see their relationship evolve, especially since they both seemed so alone in the world before they found each other. The natural progression seemed so genuine, and it was easy to for the reader to observe what they felt for one another. See, everyone, books/comics can bring people together!
I also really liked that this book was set in the 80s. It isn’t very often that I read something set during this period of time, which is really a shame because it is so unique and is one of my favorite eras to read about. The emphasis on music was also pretty great. Whenever a band was mentioned, especially The Smiths or Joy Division, I would give a little whoop of delight because I’ve always enjoyed their music, too.
The twist at the end involving Eleanor’s family left me reeling, and my heart absolutely ached for her. The clues were there all along, and once I pieced everything together, it made me feel so sad for Eleanor. Park's reaction was so authentic, and as my heart ached for Eleanor, it broke for Park.
If you’re looking for a well-written, realistic book that takes place in an oft-ignored decade, definitely give Eleanor and Park a try.