written by Wenlock Books bookseller Ellie
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Genre: Young Adult
Eleanor is the new girl in town, and she's never felt more alone. All mismatched clothes, mad red hair and chaotic home life, she couldn't stick out more if she tried.
Then she takes the seat on the bus next to Park. Quiet, careful and - in Eleanor's eyes - impossibly cool, Park's worked out that flying under the radar is the best way to get by.
Slowly, steadily, through late-night conversations and an ever-growing stack of mix tapes, Eleanor and Park fall in love. They fall in love the way you do the first time, when you're 16, and you have nothing and everything to lose.
I initially chose to read Eleanor & Park, unaware of how popular and loved this book was, simply due to the fact that my name is also Eleanor and, like the Eleanor in the book, also have wild, curly hair. In hindsight how glad I am that Rowell just happened to name the main character Eleanor, causing me to pick it up. This book is FAB.
Eleanor and Park don’t meet in the most romantic way to say the least; being forced into sitting together by a lack of seats and their low social status. Park, the only half-Korean fan of punk at their high school, is by no means popular, but benefits from his family’s deep roots in their lower-middle-class neighbourhood. Meanwhile, Eleanor’s wildly curly red mane and plus-sized frame would make her stand out even if she weren’t a new student, having just returned to her family after a year with no home, following being thrown out by her loathsome drunkard of a stepfather, Richie. Although both teens want only to fade into the background, each characters' appearance will ironically ever prevent them from blending in. Aside from Eleanor's wild hair and full frame and Park being the only half-Korean in Omaha, both also wear bizarre and strange clothes, Park seemingly only wearing band t-shirts and Eleanor wearing men's clothing; button-up shirts, blazers, and men's ties knotted in her hair or around her wrists. Despite Eleanor’s resolve not to grow attached to anything, and despite their shared hatred for clichés, they fall in love. Through Eleanor and Park’s alternating voices, readers glimpse the adorable, often hilarious aspects of first love, as well as the contrast between Eleanor’s survival of abuse and poverty and Park’s own imperfect family life.
“Eleanor was right. She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn't supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.”
Despite being a romance novel of first love and heartbreak, this book is so much more than that. Rowell truly captures the awkward teenage phases and the difficulties in life, at school and at home. One of the underlying themes of the book is how quick we are to judge people on their looks or clothing, and it tackles the issues of body image and how people view themselves. Going in to reading the book, I knew I was in for a love story, but I wasn’t expecting it to have a handful of powerful messages intertwined into the plot too; dealing with family issues, teenage drama, and their first time navigating the world by themselves. To be perfectly honest I did find the story quite frustrating at times, as nothing ever seems to go right for the 'star-crossed lovers', and even nearly 4 months after finishing the book I do occasionally wonder about the end, needing to know what happened next. However, although the end leaves so much unanswered, it almost seems right that there is so much that could still be had between the two.