Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

I had read about much of the hype that surrounded this book. Nearly everybody who had read it had told me that it was amazing and that they couldn’t fault it, other people told me that this book was over-hyped and it wasn’t as good as everyone was exclaiming it to be.

I decided to read it myself and have my own opinion.

Eleanor has untamed red hair and the wrong clothes to manage high school. She’s considered as ‘fat’ and she’s bullied, but she catches someone’s attention; the attention of someone who tried to be invisible on purpose. In that someone’s eyes, she makes everyone else seem boring. 

Park reads comic books, listens intently to his cassette tapes and just wants to keep to himself. Then he meets her. He introduces her to a world of music and superheroes, introduces to her to something that they have both never felt before: love.

Set over the course of one school year, Eleanor & Park is the story of two out-of-place sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but desperate enough to try. 

I found this book hard to read to begin with, not because it used hard language and you had to concentrate to make sure you didn’t miss anything, but because the book could have started off so much better than “fucking” being repeated over and over and over again. 

Swearing in books is used to set up characters, to portray to the reader what type of character they are: some characters in books don’t swear at all, some swear all the time. It wasn’t Park or Eleanor that spoke this way either, it was Park’s “friends”. Within the first few pages, I had read “fucking” way too many times and it put me off reading the rest of the book. I found it unnecessary swearing. 

When you get past that – after the first couple of chapters – the book finds it’s tempo (albeit a fast tempo but still a tempo) and manages to engulf the reader in the fast relationship between Eleanor and Park. Fast is definitely the right word. One minute they’re strangers on the bus, the next minute, Park is telling Eleanor that he loves her and she tells Park that she can’t breathe without him. 

“Eleanor had never thought about killing herself – ever – but she thought a lot about stopping. Just running until she couldn’t run anymore. Jumping from something so high that she never hit the bottom.”
– Rainbow Rowell, Eleanor & Park

Even though they seem to start to love each other in what seems like a couple of chapters (it isn’t), how Rainbow Rowell depicts a first love is beautiful and heart-breaking. You are taken on a rollercoaster with the two characters, not just with their relationship but with their personal lives as well. Eleanor’s story is scary and captivating yet real. It’s a story that many readers may be able to relate to.

The fact that both characters also didn’t look like what characters normally look like in books was like a breath of fresh air. Park is a boy who is half Korean (not something that you normally see in teen fiction book), he’s also into comics books and likes to listen to his cassettes and there’s also a point in the book where he wears eyeliner (definitely not something that you normally read in young adult books).

Eleanor is considered as ‘chubby’ in the book, she’s poor, has wild, red hair and dresses in thrift shop clothes because she can’t afford anything else. I don’t think I’ve read a book in a long time where the two protagonists are considered ‘outcasts’. They might not be seen as beautiful people, but we get through the dialogue that they see each other as beautiful through their own eyes. 

What I also found a bit strange was that this book is set in Omaha, Nebraska in 1986. There was a lot of racism in those times and this book doesn’t seem to convey that. Sure, there’s only so many dark themes a book can explore in a teen fiction book with 328 pages, but racism was a big problem in that era. Park belongs to a biracial family: his father was a veteran in Korea and falling in love with Park’s mother and then they live happily ever after in the mid-west of America. That didn’t happen in the 80s. A biracial family would receive racism, Park would be the receiver of racism at school. And the two black girls that befriend Eleanor, DeNice and Beebie don’t receive any racist remarks, they would be being bullied right alongside Eleanor.

Overall, this is a very good read. The history may be slightly off and the tempo of their relationship may be unbelievable, but Rowell writes this book with her heart and she portrays the journey of a first relationship beautifully. I wouldn’t say that this is an easy book to read, but this is because Eleanor’s story is dark and terrifying. But once you get past the first couple of chapters, this book is a thrill to read.

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