- Title: Eleanor & Park
- Author: Rainbow Rowell
- Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
- Year Published: 2013
- Setting: 1986 Omaha, Nebraska
- Point of View (POV): Third person omniscient, alternating between the two protagonists, Eleanor and Park.
- Themes: Love, Family, Identity, Courage, Appearances, Gender, Race
- My Rating: 8/10
- Favourite Quotes:
- “‘I just want to break that song into pieces,’ she said, ‘and love them all to death’” (Rowell 59).
- “Holding Eleanor’s hand was like holding a butterfly. Or a heartbeat. Like holding something complete, and completely alive” (Rowell 71).
- “I don’t like you, Park,” she said, sounding for a second like she actually meant it. “I…”—her voice nearly disappeared—”think I live for you” (Rowell 111).
*WARNING! THIS REVIEW – LIKE ALL OF MY REVIEWS – CONTAINS SPOILERS!*
Eleanor & Park is a young adult contemporary novel about two misfit sixteen-year-olds who fall in love with each other over the course of a school year. The novel is complicated by the hardships that each character goes through at home and at school. In each other they find a confidante, someone that they can trust to be there for them, and an unwavering support system. Eleanor is a “big and awkward” redhead from a complicated family (Rowell 8). While she is funny and clever, she is also troubled, for Eleanor’s stepfather is abusive towards her mother, her siblings, and herself. As if Eleanor’s home life isn’t enough, she is also bullied at school. She experiences abuse in some form every single day and it undoubtedly affects her relationship with Park. It causes her to be argumentative with him, even though she hasn’t even told him the details of her horrible situation. Despite all of this, she slowly allows herself to open up to Park as the novel progresses. Park, himself, is struggling with his identity as half-Korean, half-American. As he struggles to accept himself and increase his self-confidence, he meets Eleanor, who teaches him that it’s okay to be different and that his heritage and individuality are qualities that he should be proud of. The story of these two teens was lovely and I really enjoyed reading it.
The height of the conflict in this novel comes when Eleanor realizes that she is no longer safe in her home. For after months of indirect threats, she discovers that it is her step-father, Richie, who has been writing disgusting sexual messages on her school books. Thinking back over the last few months, Eleanor thinks about “how he looks at me. Like he’s biding his time. Not like he wants me. Like he’ll get around to me. When there’s nothing and no one else left to destroy. How he waits up for me. Keeps track of me. How he’s always there. When I’m eating. When I’m reading. When I’m brushing my hair,” and she knows that she has to leave (Rowell 288). Unfortunately, this means leaving Park behind and possibly the most heartbreaking fifty pages I’ve ever read.
In regards to the emotional attachment I developed for this book, I really did become invested in the relationship between Eleanor and Park. Throughout the novel, I was rooting for them to pull through all of the negativity that life was throwing at them. Yet, Eleanor’s home life became too much, leading to their reluctant sort-of breakup at the end of the novel. The ending broke my heart, but I also found it irritating. I really disliked that Eleanor did not even try to stay in touch with Park at all after leaving Omaha. As a person who believes in long distance relationships, it upset me (and I’m sure, many others) that Eleanor wouldn’t even try and did not give Park any kind of explanation. And how she finally sent Park a three-word postcard on the last page of the novel does not redeem her for me.
Rainbow Rowell’s writing style is very clear and conversational, and the dialogue between characters is always very believable. Often, the characters’ thoughts interrupt the progression of the story, represented by italics, which I thought was a great way to deepen the readers’ understanding of the characters. The pacing of the novel was perfect. It included moments of action where I flew through the chapters and slower moments where the focus was on developing the characters and their relationship. Rowell chose to set the novel in 1986, which I found very interesting to read about, with comic books and mixtapes being what draws Eleanor and Park together. I believe that this is a relatable story that could occur anywhere and at any point in time, but for these characters, without the pop culture of 1986, they may never have been brought together.
The novel, as young adult literature, succeeds in fulfilling the expectations of the genre. Eleanor & Park discusses “societal conflicts and dilemmas” and expresses “the unique point of view offered by an adolescent main character” (Bean & Moni 638). The novel directly appeals to its intended audience by depicting adolescents who are “living and wrestling with real problems close to [the teenage audience’s] own life experiences” (Bean & Moni 638). A major theme in YA literature is coming-of-age, or ‘bildungsroman.’ The characters are in the process of developing their identities into the kind of people they want to be. Eleanor and Park help each other to accept themselves and understand that they deserve love just as much as everybody else. Eleanor says, “the world rebuilt itself into a better place around [Park]”, meaning that when she is around him, she is in a world where she can forget about her bullies at school and her abusive stepfather and just allow herself to be happy (Rowell 269).
I would definitely recommend this novel to just about anyone. With its relatable characters, this story could be enjoyed by people of any age, not just by young adults. While the romance is the main focus of the story, the individual lives of the characters could easily bring in readers who don’t usually read romance novels. I gave Eleanor & Park an 8 out of 10 because even though I really liked the story, I was often very annoyed with Eleanor and her behaviour. She kept Richie’s abuse and the extent of the bullying she was receiving at school a secret until later in the novel, using Park unfairly as an outlet for her anger in the meantime. I definitely enjoyed the character of Park more, but being frustrated with Eleanor does not mean that I disliked the novel. It was definitely a solid 8 for me and I will continue to recommend it to anyone who will listen.
Bean, Thomas W., and Karen Moni. “Developing Students’ Critical Literacy: Exploring Identity Construction in Young Adult Fiction.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, vol. 46, no. 8, 2003, pp. 638-648.
Hill, Beth. “Checklist for Editors.” The Editor’s Blog, 19 Aug. 2015, E.A. Hill, theeditorsblog.net/2011/06/07/checklist-for-editors. Accessed 3 Sept. 2016.
Rowell, Rainbow. Eleanor & Park. St. Martin’s Press, 2013.