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Book Review: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (4/5)

26 Feb

A well written YA book is a breath of fresh air for me. I’ve read a lot of heavy adult fiction lately and having something light, conversational and a bit romantic is great to cleanse all the sadness. Eleanor & Park came at the perfect time for that and I flew through this wonderful story. Rowell is quickly becoming a favorite author.

Cover Image via

Cover Image via

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Summary from Goodreads:

Two misfits.
One extraordinary love.

Eleanor… Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough…Eleanor.

Park… He knows she’ll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punch line. There’s a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises…Park.

Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.

How does Rowell write characters that are so much like me and every other person who reads her books? Honestly, I see myself in Eleanor and Park and I know I’m not the only one saying that. We’re all a bit red-headed misfit and half-Korean punk. I kept reading as fast as I could to see if the characters would have the ending I thought they deserved. In some ways I was happy with it, but in other ways I was disappointed. (SPOILERS FOR THE REST OF THIS PARAGRAPH) I wanted more from the ending, but that’s not how Rowell writes. I know what I’m supposed to think the three words were, “I love you.” By I’m a cynic. What if they were “Forget about me?” Do we really know? I wanted something more conclusive.

Of her books, I think Attachments had the most conclusive ending and Fangirl had the most vague. This sat in the middle but on the Fangirl end of the spectrum.

I love Rowell’s characters. Almost as much as I love John Green’s. Well, maybe more. I think Rowell taps into that book-nerd past many readers share and makes you remember the beauty of it. I loved that they read Alan Moore comics together. I liked that they listened to U2. It was cool and nerdy all at once.

I liked Park best. Eleanor was too much like me in some ways. It’s the parts of me I didn’t like: over-analytical, concerned about appearance, quick to anger. But Park was cool, some things I wanted to be: bold, independent, strong. They were both likable but if I had to pick one, the choice is easy. Plus, who didn’t want an eyeliner-wearing comic-dork ninja for a boyfriend at 16? I know I did.

Eleanor’s social situation reminded me of grade school. Luckily, I couldn’t relate to her home life, but dreading gym class, being friends with people because they were nice to you, being shunned by the ‘cool’ kids and dressing in cheap clothes reminded me of myself. I never wanted to ‘fit in’ and do the ‘cool’ things, much like Eleanor. I had my friends and we were happy. It was cool to see a character who was the same way.

Rainbow Rowell Image via the author's website

Rainbow Rowell
Image via the author’s website

I loved the date that Eleanor and Park went on together. It was so reminiscent of dating in high school, the freedom of a drivers’ license. I liked Eleanor exploring a city she lived in for the first time and how much Park wanted to show it to her. She was finally awarded some level of freedom and the ability to enjoy the world around her. It was really beautiful.

It was hard to read about Eleanor feeling accepted by Park’s family because I’ve had similar problems. My in-laws express their affection in very different ways than my parents always have and even after five years of being around them, I still don’t think they like me and have trouble figuring out if they’re upset. It hit really close to home to see Eleanor struggle with this and I understood what she was feeling very intensely. I think going into someone else’s home for the first time is uncomfortable no matter the circumstances. We all expect the world around us to work the same way but within our personal sanctuaries, we have rules. For example, we are a lid-closed toilet household. If I go somewhere and the lid is up (we won’t even go to the seat being up), I get really uncomfortable. They’ve broken my rule but it’s their house. This is how I saw Eleanor feeling in Park’s house.

I listened to the Listening Library edition of this book narrated by Rebecca Lowman and Sunil Malhotra for Eleanor and Park respectfully. I think Lowman did an amazing job and I adored her parts of the story. She gave Eleanor a strong voice and didn’t make Park sound too feminine. Malhotra did a good job, but there were some parts of his narration I wasn’t a big fan of. His voice for Eleanor was really squeaky and annoying and I didn’t think it fit her character. His female characters in general feel a bit flat to me, except for Park’s mom. I think he did a great job of bringing her to life.

As someone who met her husband at age 14, it’s hard for me to ignore the message of this book. You can fall in love at 16. You can fall in love any time. As much as you try to run away from it, it can chase you even if you’re in Minnesota. I thought the way they talked to each other was very real and I liked the slow development of the relationship. They were scared of what they felt for each other, like Romeo and Juliet. (Yes, I caught the parallelism. It was awesome.) Society shouldn’t dismiss people who get married young or who marry their high school sweethearts as naive or stupid. We can meet people when we’re young who we want to keep with us forever and that should be embraced.

Writer’s Takeaway: I adored the narrators and their distinct ways of thinking. I also think Rowell did a great job of bouncing back and forth between the two to keep the story flowing. I liked the short little parts about what the two were thinking while they were together, that was adorable. Great way to pace the book.

Overall really enjoyable and well-developed characters. Four out of Five Stars.

This book fulfills the 1980-1999 time period of the When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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