Thursday, October 10, 2013

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell | Book Review

TITLE: Eleanor & Park
AUTHOR: Rainbow Rowell
PUBLISHER/YEAR: St. Martin's Press / 2013
SOURCE: Purchased

Goodreads / Author's Website

Eleanor & Park got a lot of hyper earlier this year. It was one of those books that was being reviewed constantly and got like all the four/five star reviews. I totally get that; it was a pretty fantastic book. Unfortunately, I read it a few months after everybody else and had a lot of time to reflect on those reviews. Once again, this was a case of me building a book up too much in my head. However, I've waited a few weeks to write this review (I was away from all computers when I read the book) and a lot of the issues I originally had don't seem that important anymore. It might not be my favourite YA novel ever, but Rowell does an amazing job creating a believable high school love story with characters that defy stereotypes.

Eleanor & Park is a slow burn coming of age story about two misfit teens just trying to survive the school year. It's 1986 Omaha and Park is just trying to fly under the radar at school, not the easiest task when he's the only Asian at his school. He's not the most popular kid, but he gets by. Eleanor is the new girl with bright red hair and the oddest clothes and sensibility. She's basically a walking bulls eye. One of the best things about this book was that the characters didn't fit into the YA norm. They weren't middle-class white kids. Park was dealing with some identity issues due to his race; his dad was from Omaha, but his mom was Korean. The only other Asian kid at his school was his younger brother who just happened to look like his dad. He felt his differences even though they didn't necessarily negatively affect his standing. It's not often you come across a book that deals with issues surrounding race in such a nuanced manner and it was so refreshing to see. He's not really bullied because of his race, but he's self conscious anyways. He knows he's different than the typical kid he sees at school and these differences affect him and how he portrays himself. It's a complex identity issue that he's dealing with and it really is handled well.

Eleanor on the other hand is what kids at my high school would have called a freakshow. She's super sarcastic, doesn't wear the latest trends, is bigger than the average girl and just doesn't really seem to care. However, she's dealing with a lot more than bullying at school. She faces abuse at home and is basically living in abject poverty thanks her to stepfather and his drinking habits. Her story is absolutely heartbreaking.

The really wonderful thing about Eleanor & Park is watching these two characters come together. They don't immediately forget about their social circumstances and individual problems because of love and it takes awhile for them to really connect, but once they do it's such a sweet love story. They care about each other and they don't always show it in the best ways. They don't necessarily even understand each other. Park doesn't know what it means to be poor while Eleanor can't understand what it's like to be the only visible minority in the school. But the thing is, they try. They help each other and gain strength through each other even though they both know their problems and insecurities aren't going to disappear because of this other person.

It's such a touching story. I loved watching the moments unfold, sharing comic books, music, holding hands and kissing. The thought processes both teens went through at each moment. Everything was just dead on. The pace was slow, but perfect as were their reactions. They fit each character perfectly. The only part that lost me a little was the very end. I was frustrated not by anything the characters necessarily did or did not do, but because for me it threw off the pacing slightly. But I mean seriously, minor quibble.

Eleanor & Park is a beautiful story about first love. I might be the last one to read this, but if there's anybody out there who hasn't, you should probably read it. I didn't LOVE it as much as some, but I did appreciate it and I'm glad to give it a spot on my bookshelf. I can't wait to continue reading Rowell's work as she creates interesting and diverse characters and makes everything seem so real.

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