BOOK REVIEW – Eleanor & Park

28 Dec
Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell (St. Martin's Press, 2013)

Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell (St. Martin’s Press, 2013)

The holidays mean that I get to squeeze in some fiction and, as I said in a previous review, I love books that make me cry. I don’t want to just dab little tears politely from my face. I want to be heaving with sobs. I want my eyes to be puffy the next day. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, judging from its cover (that works!) and blurbs, seemed like a charming romantic story about teenage outcasts. It didn’t come off as inherently gut-wrenching like The Fault in Our Stars (a story about terminally ill teenagers).

It’s 1986 in Omaha, Nebraska. Park (half-Korean, half-Irish) and Eleanor (red-headed and Danish) are thrown together by school bus politics. I love how quietly and organically they form their alliance against the other kids on the bus every morning: he tries not to look at her directly but takes her in with his peripheral vision and she sneaks peaks (eaves-reads) at his comic books. She scribbles names of songs she’s never heard but wants to on her note books. He, an aficionado of 80s punk and new wave, makes her a mix tape. Remember when making someone a mix-tape was the greatest declaration of one’s affection?!? Park comes from a stable and loving home (his parents are the ones that still can’t keep their hands off one another) and Eleanor’s family is a mess. It’s so bad at home that Eleanor doesn’t ever really leave her bedroom and she doesn’t have her own toothbrush. Scenes like this – in fiction and life – bum me out. Of course, the moments that really wrench at your heart happen when we see how much Park’s parents love one another and their kids (in contrast to Eleanor’s home life) and when our modern day Romeo & Juliet realize (well confronted with it in a scary way) that loving someone so hard (probably for the only time ever) doesn’t mean you get to be with them.

The characters are quirky. Rainbow Rowell evokes images of high school (the terror and the lovely bits like falling in love for the first time) with scary accuracy.

I’ve tried to write this with as few spoilers as I can. I want you to read this book. I implore you to read this book. Have a good “ugly cry.” Hug the love of your life a little bit harder.

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