Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
Published in 2013 by Orion
My copy: Library
Eleanor is the new girl in town, and she’s never felt more alone. All mismatched clothes, mad red hair and chaotic home life, she couldn’t stick out more if she tried.
Then she takes the seat on the bus next to Park. Quiet, careful and – in Eleanor’s eyes – impossibly cool, Park’s worked out that flying under the radar is the best way to get by.
Slowly, steadily, through late-night conversations and an ever-growing stack of mix tapes, Eleanor and Park fall in love. They fall in love the way you do the first time, when you’re 16, and you have nothing and everything to lose.
I had heard a lot about this book but I wasn’t really sure what to expect from it – however I did think it may be a bit of a soft and fuzzy love story. It isn’t. And, for me, this is a good thing. Instead we’re introduced to a bunch of sweary teenagers being lairy on the school bus – and into the scene is thrust scruffy new girl Eleanor. She ends up sitting next to quiet loner Park, and the animosity between the two is instantaneous. However, as the two travel together on the bus every day, this slowly thaws…
What sets this book apart from other teenage love stories is the two characters themselves, who are quirky and different. And, vitally, and the most interesting part of the book for me, both have hugely contrasting home lives. Park lives with his Korean mother and American father, who are very much in love, and supportive of Park and his brother. Meanwhile, Eleanor’s homelife couldn’t be worse, living in a tiny property with an assortment of younger siblings, a downtrodden mother and a violent stepdad. There is no silver-lining to Eleanor’s story – the set up is horrible and you can’t help but sympathise with her and her siblings.
The way the relationship builds up between our two protagonists is slow and well done, with just enough tension to keep us going. We hear from each of the two characters so we get both their points of view and find out what motivates, scares and excites them. They are great characters and despite their flaws I did find myself rooting for them.
If anything, I would have liked a bit more of Eleanor’s dysfunctional family as I found this the most intriguing part of the story. I also liked the slightly ambiguous ending.
This is a really good young adult novel – probably for the older end of the spectrum as it does contain a fair bit of bad language and has a few unpleasant scenes. This is my second Rowell novel and I’ll definitely be checking out her others soon.