Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
I recently reviewed Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell’s other best-selling book of 2013, and now I have to tell you about Eleanor and Park, because it so darn good. Rowell has a gift for dialogue, and for creating characters that you fall madly in love with even though they are flawed, because they creep inside your heart and live there long after you turn the last page.
Rainbow Rowell is what’s next for smart teen readers.
Eleanor has just moved back in with her mom, and started a new high school mid year. She is an eccentric dresser with a mass of curly red hair, and when she gets on the bus on her first day of school, everyone shifts in their seats so she can’t sit down. This is a moment that cuts to the heart of everyone who is, or who ever has been–a teenager. Who comes to her rescue in this agonizing moment? Park, a small-framed Asian boy, who moves over and offers Eleanor a seat, without looking at her.
Park is not sure why he does it, why he risks his own social standing with the cool (read: mean) kids to offer a seat to the friendless new girl, and he regrets it almost immediately. But it’s too late: Eleanor has claimed the seat. At least he doesn’t have to talk to her, right?
For Eleanor and Park to become friends, each takes tremendous risks. Park risks his tenuous social position with the popular crowd. Eleanor risks the wrath of her stepfather, which could actually get dangerous.
What is unique about Eleanor and Park is not the star-crossed teen romance, or the fact that this book is set, refreshingly, in the pre-internet 80s, when a simple land-line phone call could trigger an earth-shaking, life-changing thrill, but the fact that you will CARE about these characters so deeply.
I read this book in one luxurious day before Christmas, when it was snowing and no one had to go anywhere. My husband and kids made remarks like, “Hey! Mom’s on the couch!” “Mom, are you sick?” “Mom! are we having dinner tonight?”
My daughter, now 14, read it the next day, and barely came up for meals. The most telling detail, however, is that when she got to the last dozen pages, she put it down for the night. “I don’t want to finish it tonight,” she said. “I want to still be in this book when I wake up tomorrow.”
What a delicious sentiment for a reluctant reader.
This is a wonderful book, beautifully written, that will stay with you long after you have finished. Not because it is momentous, but because it is so utterly human.
Teen romance, let’s face it, is most interesting for girls ages 13-16, but I recommend this book for anyone (13 and up) with a pulse.