Title: Eleanor & Park
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date: March 5, 2013
Summary from Goodreads-
“Bono met his wife in high school,” Park says.
“So did Jerry Lee Lewis,” Eleanor answers.
“I’m not kidding,” he says.
“You should be,” she says, “we’re sixteen.”
“What about Romeo and Juliet?”
“Shallow, confused, then dead.”
”I love you,” Park says.
“Wherefore art thou,” Eleanor answers.
“I’m not kidding,” he says.
“You should be.”
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.
This book was so beautiful. It was smart, sweet, and funny, the perfect combination for a not-so-perfect romance. The protagonists of this first-love story were completely lovable and multidimensional, both unique in their own ways from your typical young adult protagonists.
Firstly, it is very unusual to see a male protagonist, and in particular a non-white protagonist. The fact that Park was Asian came up a lot throughout the story, whether through Rowell’s slightly racist jokes (another thing you don’t see in YA lit. or any lit, for that matter), or through Eleanor and Park actually talking about his Asian-ness. The episode that particularly comes to mind is when Park tells Eleanor about his insecurities surrounding his looks due to the fact that he is Asian. He asks her to come up with hot Asian guys, and she can only come up with one. Though this was certainly an amusing incident, it was also rather poignant as well, because the lack of multiculturalism in pop culture today is still a big issue. In my opinion, Rowell handled the subject of race very gracefully and in a manner that was very genuine.
In addition, Park was also painted as a very feminine teenage boy. This is something he struggles with throughout the book, something that has always come between him and his father, who wants him to fight and be traditionally masculine. Park finally starts to come to terms with this part of himself and feel comfortable expressing it (through eyeliner, no less) because of Eleanor.
Eleanor also deals with physical issues throughout the story. Her size seems to be a big part of how she sees herself, and she also moves towards accepting her body throughout the book, although her change isn’t as drastic or obvious as Park’s. Something I really liked about Eleanor and Park’s relationship was that Park loved her for who she was and found her body attractive. During the gym-suit-down-the-hallway incident, Eleanor was worried that when she saw Park, he would find her as unattractive as she found herself, but instead, he was thinking about how great she looked and how much he wanted to unzip the long, white zipper cutting down the front.
Rowell dealt with the subject of abuse very gracefully as well. I appreciated how she didn’t simplify the issue, and gave the reader a sense of how each member of Eleanor’s family took it and understood it. Rowell really made the reader feel Eleanor’s frustration with her mother, and the pain she felt at not being able to help her siblings. (SPOILER ALERT) When the abuse reaches a head near the end of the story, Rowell articulates Eleanor’s feelings of fear and regret perfectly.
This was a truly amazing book. I really connected with both of these characters, and their love story is one that many people will enjoy and recognize as their own first love. Rainbow Rowell is certainly a unique talent, and I just can’t wait to read more!