Eleanor & Park turned up on Kirkus’s list of Top Teen Books in 2013, and rightfully so. Rainbow Rowell is a new-to-me author, although I have been wanting to read Fangirl for a while.
Set in Omaha, Nebraska in the 1980s, Eleanor & Park is a novel about two young people who find each other and themselves despite the many obstacles in their way.
When Eleanor moves to a new house and school she’s already aware of how different she is. Park notices her right away because she is
…big and awkward. With crazy hair, bright red on top of curly. And she dressed like…like she wanted people to look at her. Or maybe like she didn’t get what a mess she was. She had on a plaid shirt, a man’s shirt, with half a dozen weird necklaces hanging around her neck and scarves wrapped around her wrists. She reminded Park of a scarecrow or one of the trouble dolls his mom kept on her dresser. Like something that wouldn’t survive in the wild.
Park notices something else, too. He notices that she starts to read his comic books out of the corner of her eye.
At first he thought he was imagining it. He kept getting this feeling that she was looking at him, but whenever he looked over at her, her face was down.
He finally realized that she was staring at his lap. Not in a gross way. She was looking at his comics-he could see her eyes moving.
Eleanor notices Park, too. (“Stupid, perfect Asian kid.”) And soon, over a shared love of comic books and new wave music, the two teenagers discover a mutual appreciation for each other.
The course of true love doesn’t run smoothly, of course. It never does.
Eleanor lives with her mother, four younger siblings and her step-father, Richie, who is not a nice man. At all. In fact, Eleanor has just returned home after living with family friends for a year. She’d been kicked out and the stay was supposed to be temporary. Now Eleanor lives in a home where everyone is always walking on eggshells, especially her.
Park is half Korean and lives with his parents and younger brother, Josh. Everything about his home life is stable and ‘normal’, but Park still finds it difficult to fit in.
Eleanor is a prickly person and Park is exceedingly patient with her, but that doesn’t always prevent hurt feelings and misunderstandings. It’s impossible not to love her, though. Park, too. They are not nearly as frustrating as other ‘teens in love’ might be. I wanted to shake Eleanor’s mom though. But then I had to take into consideration the year in which the novel takes place – 1986.
I was a young(er) person in the 1980s and I loved the pop culture references in Eleanor & Park. Setting it then also allows the reader to forgive the lack of outside agencies (school, Child Protective Services, police) involved in Eleanor’s dreadful home life. Even Park’s dad knows Eleanor’s stepfather and offers Eleanor a safe place to be.
If I have any criticism of the book it’s that I didn’t love the ending. I’m all for ambiguity, but it just seemed a little anti-climactic after everything that happens. It’s a small thing, though. Time with Eleanor and Park is time well spent.