03 October 2014

eleanor & park by Rainbow Rowell

Rainbow Rowell's eleanor & park is one of those books where even if I didn't enjoy the story itself, I would enjoy the way the story is told. Everything is so tightly connected to these two and their burgeoning - not love at first sight thank the powers that be - romance; and yet, it is not at all mushy, dramarific, swoony, or sickening as so many fictional teen romances seem to be.

Park, an almost-social-outcast, non-athletic, half-Asian from a good home, reluctantly allows Eleanor, the chunky, ginger new girl who dresses funny, to sit next to him on the bus. He already hated riding the bus, and this sure didn't make it better. Days in, he realizes Eleanor is surreptitiously looking over his shoulder and reading his comics. Nice guy that he is, he lets her borrow them, and so begins their relationship.

The characters feel very real in eleanor & park. While it is the teenagers, obviously, who are the most fleshed out and familiar, the adults in the novel aren't mere stereotypes. This is actually quite a feat since all four of the primary adults in the novel - the parents - could quite easily be presented as flat characters, signifying one particular idea about parenthood/adulthood/social class. A Korean mother, a strict athletic father, a poor dependent woman with an abusive white trash boyfriend...yeah, Rowell could have simplified and stereotyped these characters easily and probably without much backlash, but instead she gives them depth. Nicely done.

The ending of this one has caused quite the controversy. As I was reading, I was shocked and a bit disappointed, but within a few minutes of setting the book down, I was oddly satisfied with the ending and felt that any other ending would have been disingenuous and resulted in the story brushing against the boundaries of those mushy, dramarific, swoony, and/or sickening youth romances I try very hard to stick clear of.

This was my first book by Rowell and clearly I've been missing out. Time to find another.


  1. I've read three by Rowell so far (Fangirl, then Attachments, and most recently Landline). E&P is the only one I haven't read, and I've tried. I just didn't like the characters enough to read beyond a few pages. I might try it again, though, because I really do like Rowell. Fangirl and Landline were both particularly amazing.

  2. Fangirl is the only other one that I think comes close to this one. I listened to it on audio, and it was wonderful. Attachments was cute, Landline a disappointment, but that's just me. Despite which book, though, she is just so easy to read. She is truly a talent.

  3. I've read (and adored) this one. I read Landline this summer which was very enjoyable as well. I'm hoping to get my hands on Fangirl next. (Once my teenage daughter quits HOGGING it.) What I'm saying is that you almost can't go wrong with Rowell. She kinda rules :D

  4. Eleanor and Park remains my favorite of Rowell's books. You're right, she's brilliant at fleshing out all the characters and making them real people. Even the jerk jock -- I love it that when Park goes to Eleanor's defense, the jock is like, "Whoa, man, okay, I didn't know she was your girlfriend" and lays right off. That felt so true to life: you steel yourself to be brave and fight a battle, and immediately you discover the battle didn't really need to be fought. (And then you feel silly.)

  5. Your review is the first to mention the adults in the story and I'm pleasantly surprised to hear that they weren't just the cardboard cut-outs that stand in for parents in so many YA novels. I love the idea of young adults being the heroes or central characters of some books, but I don't think that has to mean that every YA parent is a bad parent, an absent parent, or an unbelievably oblivious parent.

    1. I agree. Too often the foundation of YAL is the absence of good parents. I think teens can be challenged and interesting and still have a decent upbringing. :)


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