posted at Friday, March 1st, 2013 at 7:56 PM | Reviews, Young Adult
I received this book for free from YA Books Central in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on February 26, 2013
Genres: Historical, Romance
Source: YA Books Central
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.
First Sentence: “He stopped trying to bring her back.”
Eleanor & Park sets itself apart from they typical young adult read on just about every level: the setting, the main characters, the touching plot. These elements combine to make a read that moves the reader and warms the heart. Whatever expectations I had going into Eleanor & Park were simply blown away, and it will no doubt be on the list of my favorite reads of 2013.
Set in the 1980s, Eleanor & Park is the story of two misfit teens in Omaha. Many YA novels purport to be about teenagers who simply do not fit in, and, truly, almost every teen feels that way inside. However, Eleanor, and to a lesser degree Park, really do stand out from the rest of the teens at their high school. Park is Asian, the only Asian kid in school, except for his brother who takes after their white father in appearance. Eleanor, well, she doesn’t dress normal or look normal or act normal.
Eleanor & Park opens on Eleanor’s first day at school, having been away from her family for a year. She gets on the bus that first morning and everyone eyes her thrift store men’s clothing over her chubby frame. They immediately recognize her as a target of mockery, dubbing her “raghead” and “Big Red.” As she searches for a seat, every available space is suddenly filled with a backpack or saved for someone. Finally, Park, just to make it stop, allows her to sit with him, regretting his kindness even as he does so, fearing that he’ll earn the attention of the popular, bullying kids. I love that their first encounter is so awful, and how unflattering Park’s first thoughts are. So much of high school is about avoiding embarrassment, and the awkward new girl is just that. This portrayal is so honest.
Of course, as time goes by, Eleanor and Park slowly bond, not even speaking at first. He reads comics everyday on the bus, and he begins to notice her reading along. He starts flipping pages more slowly, giving her time to read the whole thing. Then he starts loaning them to her over night. From there, they enter into conversations, whispered quietly on the bus. Their thoughts on the X-Men (feminist or not?), Batman (boring or cool?), the pirate storyline in Watchmen (to be skipped or crucial to the comic?) shift gradually into conversations on music. Park brings new life into Eleanor’s drab existence with the best of 1980s pop culture.
Eleanor and her four siblings live with her mother and their drunken, abusive step-father, Richie. Her home life has no charms. The kids wear odd clothing grabbed by theit mother with any extra money. They fight over toys, like boxes that fruit come in, because that’s the best they ever really hope to get. All five sleep in a single room, often hiding in there from the shouts of Richie. Eleanor, especially, knows how terrible Richie can be, and she never ever feels safe.
Park becomes Eleanor’s safe haven. Their relationship unfolds slowly, growing at a steady pace into a strong burn. I loved watching them learn to know one another’s insecurities, and to accept them. This acceptance doesn’t make the insecurities disappear entirely, but it does help. Neither Eleanor nor Park ever felt right in their own skins, and their burgeoning love comes as close to making them feel whole as anything could. I don’t usually believe to much in young love, but I really hope these two crazy kids can make it, despite or because of all of the real world difficulties they have to face. Rowell doesn’t overly romanticize their relationship, but she also doesn’t attempt to diminish their feelings.
Eleanor & Park is, without a doubt, one of the best books of 2013, though much of it remains. Rowell has written an incredibly moving story about first love, and about the importance of having a support network, even if it’s not your family. This book is brilliant, and I will most certainly be reading any more Rowell novels I can get my hands on.
“‘I love you,’ he said.
She looked up at him, her eyes shiny and black, then looked away. ‘I know,’ she said.
He pulled one of his arms out from under her and traced her outline against the couch. He could spend all day like this, running his hand down her ribs, into her waist, out to her hips and back again. . . . If he had all day, he would. If she weren’t made of so many other miracles.
‘You know?’ he repeated. She smiled, so he kissed her. ‘You’re not the Han Solo in this relationship, you know.’
‘I’m totally the Han Solo,’ she whispered. It was good to hear her. I was good to remember it was Eleanor under all this new flesh.
‘Well, I’m not the Princess Leia,’ he said.
‘Don’t get so hung up on gender roles,’ Eleanor said.”