Hannah Moushabeck, children’s department director at Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, Mass., shares her impressions of Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell.
This novel is so refreshingly different from anything I’ve read this year that I can’t seem to stop talking about it. Eleanor is the new girl at school. She dresses strangely and doesn’t fit into any high school standard of cool, which her classmates make very clear. Park, a punk rock-loving Korean-American, just tries to keep his head down and fit in. Their love doesn’t involve life-threatening situations, love triangles, or brutal sacrifice, and they are not ethereally beautiful, nor do they feel a supernatural bond. Their love is simply raw and honest. This is the kind of love that teens should read about: love with mistakes, misunderstandings, and awkward moments. As a teen, I grew up with completely unrealistic expectations about love and relationships, which I totally attribute to reading too much unrealistic teen romance!
Rowell writes from both Eleanor and Park’s points of view, so the reader is able to see how each of the characters reacts to the same situation. One of my favorite scenes is when, after having her clothes dumped in the toilet by the school bully, Eleanor has to wear her too-tight tracksuit in the halls and bumps into Park. The wonderful juxtaposition of their interpretations of this and other incidents is one of the tantalizing qualities of the novel.
Set in 1986, this story gives young readers a glimpse of what not-so-young readers find nostalgic, while also touching on some very serious issues. Eleanor navigates the dangers of domestic violence [and lives] with the threat of being driven out of her home. Rowell doesn't shy away from describing the unpleasantries of living in dirty, ripped clothing or bathing with a drape as a bathroom door. In contrast, Park's wealthy middle-class upbringing highlights class differences in suburban America while romanticizing neither.
I would recommend this book to fans of Sarah Dessen, John Green, or Laurie Halse Anderson. And I’d tempt anyone looking for a romance in whatever genre to try this truly excellent read.
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. St. Martin’s Griffin, $17.99 March ISBN 978-1-25001-257-9