Review: Eleanor & Park

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.

Review: Eleanor & ParkEleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on February 26, 2013
Genres: Historical, Romance
Pages: 328
Format: ARC
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.

Favorite Quote:

“‘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.”

26 responses to “Review: Eleanor & Park”

  1. bermudaonion says:

    Oh man, I’ve got to get hold of this soon!

  2. Janeal Falor says:

    This sounds so, so good. I can’t wait to read it.

  3. Renae M. says:

    OKAY. That’s it. Where was I when this book suddenly became a thing because I WANTS IT PRECIOUS and my library has it on hold so that means ages and ages of waiting must be done. Boo! Dagnabbit, I’ve never seen a book get so many glowing reviews from trusted bloggy friends.

    …this comment had no purpose, really, except to say “yay, you liked it!”

    That is all.

    • Christina says:

      I love comments that say “yay, you liked it. I must read it now” because it means that you will get to enjoy it too! Or hate it, what with you being all unpredictable and stuff. :-p

  4. Kelly says:

    From all of the quotes I’ve seen for this, it sounds like an 80s pop culture junkie’s version of heaven lol

    I hope I get a chance to read this – so far all the reviews I’ve read have been positive, and I love a good awkward, embarrassing high school-type read.

    • Christina says:

      YES. It IS. I mean, I’m not really an 80s pop culture junkie, but it’s the best of 80s pop culture, so much of it is still pretty common today, like The Smiths.

      This does embarrassing high school moments very well. VERY well.

  5. Giselle says:

    I hadn’t heard anything about this novel and then all of a sudden it’s like all anyone talks about! And now you say it’s in your fav reads? Eh ok I need to see what’s up! The 80’s? Awesome already! It sounds like one of those books that are so character driven that it makes you really fall in love with their relationship. They sound like a great pair and omg oh so genuine for once!!

    • Christina says:

      I guess there have just been so many books coming out that we’re all a little behind and posting our reviews all at once. Yes, this really is sooooo good. It just all felt so realistic for high school, especially the bullying. Teen girls are MEAN.

  6. LisaMM says:

    This one sounds so good to me! I read Rainbow’s earlier book, Attachments, and really liked it, so I have no doubt I’ll enjoy this one too. Thanks!

  7. Bookworm1858 says:

    I adored this book too! I was nervous after reading some rave reviews but it totally lived up to that praise. I really want to read Attachments and will definitely be ready for any other books Rowell writes.

    • Christina says:

      Thankfully, I hadn’t seen too many reviews beforehand, but I do think it would have stood up to that admirably. I want ALL of the Rowell books.

  8. Heather says:

    This book sounds so sweet! It looks like there’s a ton of character development, which is one of my favorite things, and the plot sounds really interesting! Also, that cover is adorable. Readin’ it!

  9. Vivien says:

    This sounds so bloody adorable!! Exactly what I’m needing to read right about now. The characters sound like they make this book.

  10. This sounds so cute. It just got bumped up on my TBR list.

  11. My gods, I’ve read nothing but good things about this one. I’m not a huge fan of 80s culture, but the adorableness and the raw feels of this one might just compensate for that.

    “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.”

    True. So much of YA seems to almost… romanticize HS and I’m like, ha, please, where did you go to HS? Cause it’s bloody awkward a majority of the time.

    • Christina says:

      It’s only the best of 80s pop culture, and I didn’t really feel like the rest of it felt antiquated at all.

      For real. So many books make high school seem like this fun, sexy place. No, not at all. It was more like ritual torture. Let’s be honest to the poor teen readers.

  12. Tricia C. says:

    Love that they start their relationship over comic books. Love comic books!! I truly appreciate stories with a unique slant and this one sounds like it has one. I can see this book being passed around by a group of my students who soak up romances the way I remember doing at their age. Cannot keep enough romances on my shelves. I don’t read many now, but this sounds like one that I would definitely put in my TBR pile.

    • Christina says:

      Comic books are the best and I loved that too. I hope your students love it. I think they will, though some of the references may be lost on them.

  13. A says:

    I’ve heard SO much about this. I’ve got to have it!!

  14. Oh my God, a Han Solo quote, YESSSSS…you know that Harrison Ford is my main man:)

    I loved this book too. Such a quiet book yet really powerful. And all the 80s references were just icing on the cake. This book definitely elevated me to Rainbow Rowell fangirl status:)

    Oh, and have you checked out her website for the Eleanor and park playlists? There are 4 with some video accompaniments and they are AWESOME:)

    • Christina says:

      Hahaha, I had to choose that one. 😀 Oh, Han Solo. *swoons*

      Very much quiet and sweet and dark and funny. It hit so many notes perfectly. I still need to read Attachments, but I did buy it!

      No, I haven’t, but that sounds great. I listened to a lot of The Smiths while I read.

  15. _Sandra_ says:

    This book sounds like so much win, I just have to have it! Heard only praises from friends and people that have already read it, so dying to get my hands on it. Awesome review! 🙂

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