Rainbow Rowell tells the story of two teenagers in the 1980’s. Park is your typical nerd who fits in just enough not to get picked on, and Eleanor is the new girl in school. She’s tall and big boned, has Merida hair, and dresses strangely. When the two first meet, sparks fly, but not in a good way. Park, for no apparent reason, hates Eleanor. Over time, their relationship develops into friendship and then into romance. Eleanor and Park is one of the best books I’ve read in a very long time, and I have no clue why I waited so long to read it.
This books is completely character driven and Rowell’s characters feel so real. Park is half Korean, loves comic books, and cares quite a bit what people think of him. He’s a pretty typical 15 year old. Eleanor has a really interesting backstory, which she slowly shares with Park and the reader over the course of the novel. Eleanor is the oldest of five siblings. In her small house, she shares a room with her four younger siblings. It is clear from the very first page he appears in, Ritchie, Eleanor’s step-father, is a pretty terrible human being. The supporting characters are all three-dimensional. There is not a single character in this novel who is poorly developed.
Park and Eleanor end up becoming friends because he notices that she is reading his comics over his shoulder on the bus every day. As this is set in the 80’s, Park picks up issue 1 of Watchmen, which is what they first bond over. I can not tell you how jealous I was of these two teenagers getting to experience Watchmen without they hype, or even knowing that it’s going to be one of the best comic book series ever. Once the two start talking, there’s no going back. Park starts lending Eleanor comic books and mix tapes. It’s so 80’s, so high school and truly adorable.
Anyone who has attended high school will also appreciate how realistic the setting is for these students. Rowell goes into the crazy bus politics, prioritizing homework, how scary it is to drive for the first time, and most importantly, first love. There is so much in this book that either made me think, “Yep. I totally did that.” or “I know someone who did exactly that.” It was uncanny the way Rowell captured that important four year period so well.
Eleanor and Park is a remarkably realistic book that tells a sweet love story amidst some very difficult life experiences. This novel deals with bullying, domestic abuse, and neglect. With Rainbow Rowell’s well fleshed out characters and some seriously high-anxiety situations, this is one of those books that is impossible to put down.