This post contains spoilers.
Title: Eleanor & Park
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Publication Date: March 5, 2013
Genre: Young adult
Premise: When new girl Eleanor steps onto the bus for the first time with her wild, curly red hair and big, mismatched men’s clothing, no one wants to sit next to her. It would be embarrassing, and, besides, everyone already had their seat on the bus. Park had already been bothered and teased that morning and didn’t want any more unwanted attention, but he angrily let Eleanor sit next to her anyway to put her out of her misery. After a few days of sitting next to each other in silence, sparks begin to fly when he catches her reading his comic books. Slowly, they develop a friendship, which then turns into something more. From physical insecurities to Park’s mom’s disapproval of Eleanor and his complicated relationship with his dad to Eleanor’s unstable family and being picked on in and out of school, they strive to keep their young love alive.
Ashley: Having heard a lot about Eleanor & Park, I had relatively high expectations for it. While the book was well-written, the story fell a bit flat for me. The main characters were unique and shimmering you won’t find in other young adult romantic fiction.
Amanda: This was one of the only books I had to read for school that I genuinely wanted to read. (I had to read it for my creative writing class about writing a young adult/middle grade novel.) Being a YA realistic fiction book centered around a romance, it was right up my alley but wasn’t like others of its kind. The characters make the story distinct and somewhat unexpected. Even though it isn’t even set in this millennium, Eleanor and Park combines the story of your first love with serious and important issues kids, young adults, and even adults still face today.
Carly: I think it is a simple, cute story with unique characters. I like that it strays from the norm in its depiction of young adult romance. It has a solid overlying message about being true to yourself and standing up for what is right, even if it means you don’t fit in.
What We Liked
Ashley: Both Eleanor and Park were well characterized, and the detailed insight we got into each of their lives were great. I especially liked getting both of their perspectives—although told from a third-person standpoint—because it was important to see how they were and how their feelings compared. It offered more depth to the story.
Amanda: The multiple points-of-view are done so well and really make the story. Even if it’s just a sentence or paragraph of one character’s thoughts, it allows the reader to really understand and see both sides of the story, as well as the rather unique characters. The story just wouldn’t be the same if we had only Park’s or only Eleanor’s point-of-view.
Carly: I like the thoughtful, mature tone of the novel. Though the content ranges from amusing to very serious, the novel upholds a deep sincerity. I also really enjoyed a lot of lines throughout the book, as well as the way it captured the simplicity of falling in love.
Ashley: The story was much more uneventful than I anticipated and came off as underwhelming. I kept waiting for something dramatic to happen, because there was so much of Eleanor and Park just being a couple. I get that the conflict was the fact the two of them couldn’t freely be together in fear of what Richie, Eleanor’s abusive stepdad, would do, but it never seemed problematic enough for it to be the central conflict. Because, for the most part, they managed fine, and Eleanor’s concern over the situation disappeared.
I kept waiting for something more, but even the something more of Richie being the one who has been writing the hateful and insulting messages on Eleanor’s school books didn’t feel impactful enough. It was obviously an upsetting, terrible thing, but it felt less dramatic than it should have. If the conflict of Eleanor and Park being together and the insulting messages on Eleanor’s books were heightened, then the story would be better.
Amanda: Eleanor’s siblings were sort of just there and didn’t add much to the story or to Eleanor, unlike Park’s brother, Josh. Josh doesn’t play a large part in the story either, but he’s important to the general conflict and relationship Park has with his dad and to the insecurities he has about himself. Eleanor’s siblings just seem to bother or annoy her, which most people do, so that’s not new. They might have played a role in Richie discovering Eleanor’s grapefruit box of treasures, but even that’s not clear and Richie could/would have found out without the siblings.
I definitely sensed stereotypes in some of the characters or their actions throughout the book, which I didn’t like but sensed most were done to realistically portray what that situation with these specific characters would have been like in that time. However, I would have liked to see more to show that those stereotypical actions are not okay, perhaps more things like Tina saying that Park’s mom was Korean, not Chinese.
Carly: Though I like that the novel has a diverse central character, there are some racist undertones that could be further examined. I felt that there were a good deal of stereotypes embedded throughout.
Ashley: Those who enjoy young adult fiction, especially ones concerning love stories, would find this to be of interest, because it’s very much so centered on a romance.
Amanda: If you like reading young adult fiction, especially ones centered around romantic relationships, this is definitely the read for you. But this book is about much more than Eleanor and Park’s romantic relationship, so this would be right up the alley for anyone who enjoys young adult fiction in general.
Carly: A general young adult audience would enjoy this piece! Teenage girls might find the romance aspect more appealing, but this is a book I think a lot fiction lovers would enjoy.
Image via City Pages.