Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Genres: Young Adult, Fiction, Romance
Published: 26th February, 2013
Don’t let the cute cover mislead you; Eleanor & Park is not your typical high school romance. Set in 1986, the budding love story of the two misfits is still relevant today.
Eleanor was right. She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.
Told in a dual narrative, this story explores not only young love, but also how different family backgrounds can shape young people, and I think we can all learn a valuable lesson here.
Park is by no means popular, but he’s left alone most of the time, and he’s happy to avoid attention. That is, until Eleanor shows up, and ends up sitting next to him on the school bus every day. He’s embarrassed just to be in her vicinity, and this feeling never truly goes away, not even when they are together. It was heartbreaking. Park is a good guy, but at that age, it’s hard to overcome these feelings, when one never actually learnt true acceptance at home.
Eleanor is the weird one. According to everyone else, anyway. But aren’t we all weird sometimes? Her story hit very close to home. The first red flags appeared when it became clear the reason why she’s the new kid in school is that she’s just returning home after having spent a year elsewhere, with no contact with her mother or siblings for months. All things considered, I’d say Eleanor turned out to be a better person than expected, and her compassion towards a mother who basically dumped her over an abusive man is nothing short of admirable.
The alternating voices of Eleanor and Park draw a sharp contrast between them and their families. Park might have never received his father’s approval he craved for years, but he grew up in a loving and caring family. To his utmost horror, his parents still appear to be deeply in love and are snogging all the time.
As his friendship with Eleanor deepens, and then later turns into love, Park’s dad actually comes around, and alongside Park’s mum, the adorable Mindy, becomes one of the teen’s biggest supporters. It’s him who extends a standing invitation to Eleanor, so she can spend less time with her abusive step father and completely useless mother. Sure, there are rebellious moments he might not handle well, but no family is perfect. As long as there is love, there’s always a way to overcome these situations.
There’s no such hope for Eleanor. Every moment of happiness she feels with Park is overshadowed by the fear of being found out and sent away. As the story progressed, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of dread that something bad is going to happen, and her relationship with Park is heading toward something disastrous. There’s nothing like a neglectful mother-father duo to make you feel absolutely worthless, to the point where you can’t even believe someone can actually accept and love you; to grow a shell around you that is meant to be comfortingly impenetrable, but essentially it only serves as ammunition for your self sabotage.
‘Stop asking that,’ she said angrily. There was no stopping the tears now. ‘ You always ask that. Why. Like there’s an answer for everything. Not everybody has your life, you know, or you family. In your life, things happen for reasons. People makes sense. But that’s not my life. Nobody in my life makes sense…’
‘Not even me?’ he asked.
‘Ha. Especially not you.’
This book was overwhelming. The ending was confusing and it honestly broke my heart. If you expect a fluffy romance, I have bad news for you. Yes, it has everything a romance should have, but also much more, so brace yourself.
On a slightly happier note: the book has an amazing music selection. I mean, Joy Division…? The cure? Fuckin’ awesome!
You can check out the full playlist on Rainbow Rowell’s website.
Have you read Eleanor & Park yet? What did you take away from the story?
Get Eleanor & Park on Amazon UK.