Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, St. Martins Griffin, New York, 2013, ISBN: 978-1-250-01257-9
When we first meet Eleanor and Park they are strangers on a school bus. Eleanor is new, “not just new – but big and awkward. With crazy hair, bright red on top of curly. And she was dressed like…like she wanted people to look at her.” Park gets looked at too; he is the only biracial kid at school with a Korean mom and Irish dad. Soon, this pair of misfits discovers shared interests in comics, New Wave music, and each other. What starts out as friendship, soon becomes a romance that brings intense happiness and sorrow into their lives.
The sorrow part comes mostly from Eleanor’s step-father, who is an abusive alcoholic. He’s already kicked Eleanor out of the house for a year for typing too loudly. If he discovers she’s dating a boy, there’s no telling what kind of terror he will bring down on her and her family. The closer she and Park become, however, the harder it gets for her to hide the relationship from people in neighborhood. While Park only hears the beating of his heart when he’s with Eleanor, all she hears is the ticking time bomb of her whole life about to explode.
I picked up Eleanor & Park after reading a glowing review in the New York Times by John Green. In many ways, Rowell’s book reminded me of a John Green novel. Like Green, Rowell has not lost her understanding of and empathy with her teenage characters. At one point when their English teacher asks Park why students still read Romeo and Juliet (a rather ominous allusion that haunts the telling of this story), Park responds, “because people want to remember what it’s like to be young? And in love?” That obsessive quality of first love, where everything is so new and intense, is what Rowell captures perfectly in this novel. Eleanor and Park are two original characters who are sympathetic despite their flaws. At first, they seem like a very unlikely couple but the deeper you get into the novel, the more you realize how well they suit each other.
Rowell throws a major roadblock in front of the couple’s happiness in the form of Eleanor’s step-dad. His threatening presence makes the book a gripping read. Eleanor’s romance with Park is meaningful because of the risks she takes to be with him. My only complaint with the novel is with the ending, which seemed a little rushed and not as believable as I would have liked. After following these characters for 300 pages, I didn’t quite buy the choices they make at the very end. Despite this flaw, however, I was completely consumed with this book and sad to leave these characters when I got to the final pages.
Information about the author
The author writes on her Amazon.com author page, “Rainbow Rowell is the author of Attachments, Eleanor & Park, and Fangirl. When she’s not writing, she’s obsessing over other people’s made-up characters, planning Disney World trips, and arguing about things that don’t really matter in the big scheme of things.”
Young Adult Fiction
Reading Level / Interest Age
Grade 9 and up