Eleanor & Park | Rainbow Rowell | Book Review

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 & Park by Rainbow Rowell | Good Books & Good Wine

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

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About April (Books&Wine)

April is 27 years old and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. In her free time she can be found reading, working out, or eating junk food. She often wears her sunglasses at night.

Comments

  1. Oh, April. THIS BOOK. It just really, really got to me. I feel like there’s something that’s just so different about it, and for ever reason you’ve listed here that you love it, I couldn’t agree more. It was so nice to see Eleanor’s character — a girl who isn’t perfect or particularly pretty, but she’s smart and a little bit sassy when you get to know her. She has a lot of shit to deal with and that made me so sad, but then it was all balanced so perfectly (yep, PERFECTLY) with Park. Good gosh, I loved his character. And his mom and his dad! They were so wonderful too. And everyone was imperfect, but just.. authentic. Ah, this isn’t making sense anymore, but I hope it conveys my love for this book. :)

  2. I’m still reading but this book has already found a place within my TOP 2 (!) favorite books of all time! It’s touching my heart in ways I’ve been yearning for a book to do for a very, very long time. I bought the Kindle version and now I need the hard copy. My review for this book is going to suck because I just cannot express my love for this book enough.

  3. I am so very glad that you enjoyed this one as much as I did! I truly felt like Rainbow Rowell managed to get the idea of first love out perfectly. It felt authentic, and real, and how first love really is like (based on my own experience, of course). I also loved that you were able to pinpoint the things both of them (Eleanor and Park) face in terms of privilege and prejudice. It’s a really interesting addition to the story, and also very well-done.

  4. Excellent review of an awesome book. Have you read any of the articles/interviews Rowell has written/given about this book? They make me love it even more.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rainbow-rowell/post_4499_b_2836703.html

    I need to reread this (I ordered it from the UK last year when they got it and we didn’t).

  5. Book blogger brain freeze is a THING for sure! I know that I’m supposed to be gushing over your review (because it’s wonderful) and THIS BOOK (because it deserves gushing), but that little line about not knowing how to put your thoughts and feels into words when you sit down to write a review is the TRUTH. And I can totally see how you would have the freeze about this book. There is so very much about it to love, and love HARD. Eleanor’s home life was so difficult, and she is so empathetic. I can’t think of another character I’ve read recently who had me rooting for them as quickly as I found myself rooting for Eleanor. And for real, Park Sheridan is my boyfriend. I LOVED HIM. I LOVED THEM. I loved this book. HEAPS.

  6. I have been reading so many great reviews for this book lately and after reading yours, I am convinced I need to get my hands on a copy. The character of Eleanor definitely sounds like someone I’d root for and her slow-burn of a relationship with Park seems so sweet. I like that there’s also serious issues highlighted in this novel and it isn’t just all rainbows and sunshine. Great review, April!

  7. I’ve been hearing amazing things about Eleanor and Park. It’s definitely something that I want to read. I know my library is getting it, and I can’t wait until it comes it.

    I can’t wait to experience all the interactions between the two characters. And I really want to know why Park’s first words to Eleanor are “Jesus, fuck.” :)

    Thanks for the review.

  8. THIS BOOK, this book is one of those that is an absolute honest-to-god privilege to read. Like, thank God for my eyes and my mind to understand the words on the page that make this beautiful story. I’m not even being melodramatic, because this story touched me on so many levels. This story was very personal to me and I LOVE that Rainbow Rowell wrote a story that I genuinely believe a ton of people will relate to on SOME level or another. ALSO it is a brilliantly written, perfect contemporary! Hello slow-burn, slowly-developing, awkward first romance that is believable and real! It actually made my eyes leak real tears of EVERY EMOTION and I believe in my heart of hearts that this is one of the best books of the year and maybe one of my favorites EVER. I am thrilled beyond measure that it is getting the recognition that it is because it deserves it in every way, and I swear I can’t say enough fantastic things about this book. It just touched me so much and was a fantastic story as well. So glad you loved it too. Love it when reading pals connect over the same story, and I think a bunch of us are over this one.

  9. *makes grabby hands*
    I wants now!!
    LOL

    It sounds like a truly awesome book and I just read Rainbow Rowell’s Attachements and I loved it, so I already know the lady can write and this story just sounds fascinating. I think I’ll find the whole privilege thing interesting, and I’m glad it was address. I hate when that kind of thing is just skipped for fluff’s sake. And I LOVE fluff but fluff with depth is even better.

  10. OH I do love a good slow-burn, well-developed love story. I’m definitely going to find time for this one soon. Thanks for recommending it!

  11. I liked this one, too! I can’t say that I looooved it, but it was definitely a good read. I think Park was my favourite character — it took me a while to really warm up to Eleanor. I also loved the alternating point of views. I do have to say that this whole book was NOTHING like I had expected it to be — and I think that’s a good thing!

    Great review, April!

  12. This book was The Best! I LOOOOOVED it just like you. That hand holding scene was just incredible. I reread it like six times. Sigh…

  13. You just sold me on this book! Now in my MUST READ PILE! Thanks for the tender nudge. *grin*

  14. So glad to read another rave review of this-I wasn’t sure it could live up to the hype but I swooned too! Eleanor and Park were just so real and they made me feel all the things.

  15. I am kicking myself for not having read this yet!! Thanks for the reminder, will get to it soon-soon!

  16. Ooooh this sounds like a really good book! I’ve been thinking about picking it up but I have no idea why I haven’t. I really need to now. I so want to read a story with a character that will make my heart crack right open. I love it when I’m that invested in a character. Great review!

  17. Oh Gosh. So, it looks like this book will be coming home to me, really soon. It’s hard to read your gushing without wanting to rush to the store right away, haha! It was already pretty high up on my wishlist, but now it’s first at the top!

  18. YAY! I am so so so so glad that you loved this one, because it was one of my rare five stars and I think it’s just fabulous and unique and needs to be snuggled by every blogger. Ahem.

    Lol. Why didn’t I think to call her a red-headed stepchild in my review? Not only does she wear clothes from Goodwill (I do too a lot of the time), but she wears the really crappy ones because her mom can only get out there briefly and just grabs like the first stuff she can reach.

    Eleanor is so not a Pollyanna. She’s jealous and resentful and shy and insecure, and it’s all just so perfect.

    Dude, I loved how Park at first was like UGH THIS GIRL and wanted nothing to do with her, but then they bonded over comics and he slowly came to think that her face was the best face. And then he still struggled with his feelings for her because she would damage his reputation, because, come on, who doesn’t think about that in high school? But ultimately he’s like fuck it, I don’t care. And it’s just SO sweet.

    Truth about the swoon. Plus, some of those scenes were a little steamy. *fans self*

    Oh, another thing: it’s awesome that Park is short. Like, YA heroes are almost always like 6’2″, but Park is 5’4″. I’m pretty sure that Eleanor’s taller too, like 5’6″ or so. This romance just is so unlike other romances in YA.

    Authors, can we please emulate this formula instead of Twilight’s? Yes?

  19. Fantastic review. This is already on my must-read list but your review just knocked up higher. I can’t wait to get my hands on this book! I NEED it!

Trackbacks

  1. […] Loves Books Good Books and Good Wine Rather Be Reading Into the Hall of […]

  2. […] April @ Good Books and Good Wine: “Y’all, Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park is a heartfelt, tough, beautifully written … […]

  3. […] over at St. Martin’s — at least when it comes to contemporary YA (both this book and Eleanor & Park totally impressed […]

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  5. […] is something that Rainbow Rowell just seems to innately get about relationships. After reading Eleanor & Park, Fangirl, and now Landline, I am convinced that Rowell is the master of writing about intimacy and […]

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