In keeping with the build-up to my big tandem review of Rainbow Rowell’s LANDLINE (WE’RE PUTTIN’ THE BAND BACK TOGETHER) with my sis, L-Train (who goes by many names, but it’s the one nick-name I love most), I’m reviewing each of Rainbow Rowell’s outstanding previous novels. Including this one, which i guess a lot of people liked and gave prestigious awards to or something, and may have optioned it for a movie. Because, y’know, reasons.
So there’s a lot of built-up expectations around this book, and for the most part, this is the book that really broke the floodgates of YA love open for Rainbow Rowell, due in no small part to her immense talent or to the championing of resident awesome human being / chief Nerdfighter / totally not a giant squid of anger John Green. ENOUGH EXPOSITION. REVIEW TIME.
Eleanor and Park follows the story of… well, Eleanor, a tall, slightly overweight red-haired teenage girl, and Park, the handsome yet geeky biracial teenage son of a salesman and his Korean wife, in Omaha. They’re far enough into the heart of Nebraska that Park’s family may be be the only Asians in the county, and Park gets no end of shit for it. Eleanor has her own trouble at home – an abusive stepfather, multiple siblings, and a fractious relationship with her mother. At school, they’re both outcasts. And at first, they kind of hate each other. Expected? Yes.
Their attraction builds slowly and with great authenticity; you feel for these two incredible geeks as they push and pull against each other. It’s not a clean, quick falling in love by any means; their greatest obstacles are their own young insecurities, but only slightly less obstatacular are Park’s dad (at first), Eleanor’s father-in-law, Eleanor’s other father, Eleanor’s multiple family members, all the jerks at school… they weather the storm in terms of all the things set against them, but it never feels like “AH! STAR-CROSS’D LOVERS TORN APART, SO THAT THEIR REUNION BE SO MUCH THE SWEETER!”.
It feels like high school. Not so much the aspect of the high school location, but the relationships – everything develops slowly and rapidly at the same time. There’s the lurching forward and the pulling back, the constant daily tension. The emotions that seem overpowering in one moment, and absolutely serene in others. It doesn’t feel like fiction at all, because it brings you into those moments. This book has gravity.
They are huge geeks, though, so I felt a great kinship to them bonding over 80s comic books and the Smiths. Not to mention those moments of feigned coolness – such as writing Smiths lyrics on binders, hoping to one day hear them and be thought of as truly cool. Or being a guy, and being bold enough to experiment with makeup for the first time, and liking what you feel.
Inside of my personal experience with Eleanor and Park, I thought it was very well written; with the twin perspectives, it felt like reading two halves of a diary capturing that overpowering sense of first love. And yet, it wasn’t love at first sight. As mentioned, that’s what I liked most about it. Their love was a slow entanglement, like roots of plants growing in and over each other’s, until ultimately, they become caught up in each other. And as much as Eleanor tries to hide the ugliness and dysfunction of her own family, Park can’t keep himself away from trying to help her. Even to the very end, which I won’t spoil, but is just too damn perfect.
The writing and the storyline are taut, and compelling, even in the sense of daily drama. Rainbow Rowell finds the tension in the quiet moments, and elevates it, and supports it with wonderfully vivid dialogue. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and would highly recommend it.
It’s just… y’know, it’s not FANGIRL. So I can’t give it ALL the stars. Just, y’know, most of them.
4.75 / 5
Want a copy of ELEANOR AND PARK for your very own-some? Get it at the linkity-doo below! B needs beer money, yo!