Oh, you guys. YOU GUYS. I’m head over heels swooning over Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, just like Gayle Forman’s blurb said I would. I’m trying super hard to come up with the perfect words to convey with this book was totally radical, but I can’t. I’m having brain freeze over how great this book was. Is that a thing — book reviewer brain freeze? Anyways, I loved Eleanor & Park in that it was not at all a typical read — the characters weren’t movie star attractive, there were actual real life problems and not just first world problems either, and sigh. I just fell for both characters as I got to know them through Rowell’s excellent use of dual narration.
Eleanor is the new girl in school, and so on her first day she takes the bus. Only, she doesn’t fit. Her clothes are fricken weird. Her hair is bright red. She’s a bit bigger than the other girls. So when she enters the bus, she finds that everyone has already carved out a place, with no room for her. Backpacks block her way to a seat. THEN. Then. Park lets her sit next to him, reluctantly. This sparks a very slow burn relationship — like super slow. Developed out of silence and glances and secretly reading comic books, and eventually actually speaking to each other, discovering a mutual love of music. It’s an unlikely relationship – Eleanor is literally the red-headed stepchild and actually poor – not just the type where mom and dad can’t afford her whole tuition, but poor as in she wears old clothes from Goodwill and her bra is held together with pins. Park is half Korean and his family is quite well off. I mean, his parents almost pretty much hand him a car. He doesn’t have much dysfunction in his house and actually feels safe at home. And AGHHH you guys, this book , Eleanor & Park is all about how the sweet, tender, (lol ew, tender) relationship plays out and also it’s about first love and even, dare I say it, privilege and lack there of. I mean, hell yes I picked up on that.
You know how some characters make your heart crack right open, because you actually give a care about them and are so, so invested in their story? Eleanor was totally one of those characters for me. I’m one of those people who often laments the lack of impoverished characters in realistic YA. I mean, I am sure there are a lot of books with characters who are poor, but not many that have felt as real to me as Eleanor. I definitely did not grow up quite as poor as Eleanor, but I definitely do know what it’s like to find certain food items to be a luxury and what it’s like the have the wrong clothes — hell, even to be the kid in thrift store clothes and hand-me-downs (granted, my cousins were ‘rich’ so their hand-me-downs were nice), but yeah she just was someone I could relate to on that level. Anyways, I don’t want to give away everything about Eleanor’s character, except to say one thing struck me about her. And that is that she’s mentioned as being consistently angry and mad, and that just rang so true to me. Unfortunately, when you don’t have much, sometimes you end up resenting other people and things. And it totally seemed within the realm of possibility that Eleanor would not be cheerfully content with having a dick for a stepdad, sharing a room with 4 siblings, and constantly being the butt of the joke at school. I really felt that Eleanor was so authentic as a character and not just some Pollyanna.
Of course, I can’t go on and on about Eleanor and not mention the other main character, Park. Ugh, you guys. So, in contrast to Eleanor is Park who obviously is not nearly as disadvantaged. Hello, his parents often hand him money. They pay for him to do things like tae kwon do. Anyways. Park’s very first words to Eleanor are ‘Jesus, fuck.’ and well, a little bit more. Thankfully, that doesn’t set a precedent for their relationship. He’s very different from other YA love interests in that he doesn’t exactly ‘save’ Eleanor, but he’s very supportive. He also isn’t even attracted to her at all, at first. None of this burning love. But yeah, anyways, more about Park’s character that I liked: he’s into good music, comic books, and actually really listens to Eleanor. I basically LOVED Park and wouldn’t mind seeing more male leads with similar characteristics.
You know how some books make you swoon over just a touch of the hand? Y’all, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell is one of those frantic heartbeat hand holding kinds of books. The love depicted between Eleanor and Park felt so genuine and real and well-developed. Every glance and every touch actually meant something. I thought the romance showcased teenage longing so well. I loved seeing when Park realized he was into Eleanor. I loved seeing the small kindnesses between the two — especially the bit where Park would leave tapes and comic books for Eleanor, just a silent, understood giving. You guys, this is what I want in a contemporary romance book — a read where the feelings are authentic and real and actually developed and not the sort of book where it comes out of thin air.
I mentioned above how I liked Eleanor & Park because it shows privilege. Y’all, I loved that Rainbow Rowell incorporated the realities of economic and also white privilege within the story without getting all preachy or you know, college 101 on the reader. Like, for instance, we get to read about Eleanor’s food insecurity – meaning that she never has enough to eat and is always starving. I mean, it’s not that she’s eating burger instead of lobster, but like she literally cannot get enough to eat and her siblings consider canned ravioli to be a feast. I love that we got to see how no, poor people aren’t happy and in love with being impoverished and it’s not some grand adventure. Hell, there’s even a Box Car Children reference and you guys that is awesome. THEN. We have Park, who as a person of color doesn’t have white privilege. I particularly found a scene where they were discussing Asian men and the exoticizing of Asian women to be utterly fascinating and illuminating as to what Park must face. Anyways, I just loved that this book slips in those things without being super in your face. And I love that I picked up on it too — haha books that make me feel like a genius are THE BEST.
Honestly, I cannot recommend this book enough. I already see myself picking up a copy of Rainbow & Park for my sister — no seriously, I do because this is the kind of book you tell everyone to read. I also see myself getting rid of 10 books from my shelves so that I can order myself a copy of Attachments and not feel guilty about it. Y’all, Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park is a heartfelt, tough, beautifully written and amazing read. I am so, so glad I listened to my blogger friends and read this one sooner rather than later. It’s among my 2013 favorites and YAY YAY the author actually has a book on her backlist and another for me to look forward to.
Disclosure: Received for review via Netgalley
Other reviews of Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell:
Rather Be Reading – “All of this young love stuff? You got it so right”
GReads! – “This book encompasses all the beauty there is in falling in love for the first time when you’re a teenager”
Stacked – “These characters are real and they are aching”