Author: Rainbow Rowell
Publishing Information: February 26, 2013 by St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance, Realistic Fiction
Series information: Standalone (It has been rumored that the author is planning to write a sequel, set when the characters are in their 30’s)
Format: Hardcover, 336 pages
Source: Borrowed from my public library
Recommended For: Fans of romance filled with real characters that you really can’t stop rooting for.
Set over the course of one school year in 1986, ELEANOR AND PARK is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under.
Wow. That was my first thought upon finishing Eleanor & Park. Wow. Those of you who pay attention to this blog (or Twitter, OR Goodreads) know that my go to novels are fantasies. I love dragons and strong heroines and all things fantastical. What I do not have much experience with, however, are contemporaries. That’s why when some of my most trusted friends told me that I absolutely HAD to read Eleanor & Park I sort of nodded and made non-committal noises. Read a teen contemporary novel complete with hand holding? No thanks. Then, I went to Book Expo America and stood in line for quite a while to meet Rainbow Rowell and pick up a signed copy of her new book Fangirl, for my friend Kiki. As I said, I was there for a while, and what do you do while waiting in line at BEA? You talk to your fellow line holders! Let me tell you, these fellow readers were Rainbow Rowell FANGIRLS (that’s right, I went there) and so, when it was my time to meet her and tell her the story about how I waited in line to get a book for Kristina I was taken aback at how amazing and gracious this woman was. She looked me in the eye and listened to my story and had a real conversation with me about the whole thing, and it really heightened my experience (plus, she has excellent hair). I got to thinking about some of the things that people were saying in line and realized that MAYBE I could step out of my comfort zone a little, and upon arriving back home, I went to my local library and borrowed Eleanor & Park. And you guys, I devoured it. In one day.
The first thing I did upon finishing the novel was thank Rainbow for Eleanor, and I will say it again, I am so thankful for Eleanor. I saw myself in Eleanor. I saw myself in her eccentricities and in the way that people made fun of her for her clothing and for the way she was different from everyone else. I was that girl. I don’t think that it is out of line to assume that at some point or another, we have all been that girl. She was quirky, and she was kind, and she was left to fend for herself in an ugly world. Park was different from Eleanor. He managed to fit in despite his half-Korean background and spends his time as most teenagers do – hanging out with friends, complaining about his (admittedly lovely) family, and listening to music. When Eleanor comes into his life everything is turned upside down and he doesn’t really know what to do about it.
I love the way in which Rainbow didn’t omit details of either character’s story. We learn that Park has a somewhat aggressive father, but he is in no way as aggressive as Eleanor’s. We learn that while Park is begrudgingly spending time with his family, Eleanor is hiding from hers. The beauty of their love story is how quietly it happens at first. Park catches Eleanor reading his comic book over his shoulder – and he waits until he knows she is finished before turning the page. Or when he loans her batteries so that she can listen to his favorite tapes:
“He slid the new tape in and then, pressed Play, and then – carefully – he put the headphones over her hair.”
It was beautiful, and heart wrenching. Never has hand holding been so romantic.
The thing that stood out for me the most about Eleanor & Park was how real their story felt. Sure, it’s classified as “realistic fiction” but I can’t put into words just how realistic it was. Sure, their love story was sickly sweet, but it was also deep and meaningful in a way that anyone can understand. This novel comes highly recommended for all readers, especially for those who don’t usually read contemporaries.