Book Review: Eleanor & Park

Book Review: Eleanor & Park | Newbery and Beyond

I think I must be the last book-lover in the country to read Rainbow Rowell’s book, but I have now finally read it.  And now I understand why I’ve heard so much about it in the last several months.  There’s something about the writing style that’s just… simple, but powerful.  So everyday and mundane, but beautiful and precious.  It makes me nostalgic for 1986, and I wasn’t even alive then.  It makes me nostalgic for high school and first love, even though I was homeschooled and didn’t start dating until college.  It even made me nostalgic for Omaha (and I actually did live there, growing up).

I think this may be one of the most perfectly named books I’ve ever read.  This story is somewhat about growing up and making it through high school.  It’s partly about abuse and the families that go through it.  It touches on what it’s like to be different, to be unwanted, to be looked down on and teased by your peers.  It’s also about young love, the power and reality of it, even if it can’t last.  But mostly, it’s about Eleanor and Park.  Somehow, Rowell managed to make them seem both familiar and utterly distinct and unusual.  Park reads comic books on the bus and tries to get along with his all-American father and his Korean mother.  Eleanor is painfully aware of her size and her man’s clothing, but she gives all her extra money to her abused mother.  What starts out as a begrudging seating arrangement on the bus turns into friendship and then something more, and soon Eleanor and Park are reading comics together, swapping mix tapes, and spending awkward evenings eating dinner with Park’s parents.  Despite the darkness that is always hanging over their relationship, I couldn’t stop reading.  (In fact, I opened the book to read a few pages before I went to sleep and ended up finishing the last 75 pages in one go–oops.)

There is some swearing in this book, but just so you’re not fooled, there is a disproportionate amount of swearing in the first chapter or so.  Sexual situations are implied but not explicitly discussed (even I wasn’t made uncomfortable by them, and I’m notoriously squeamish about things like that).  Still, this book is for older teens and adults, not the preteen set.  Eleanor’s abusive stepfather is the main reason for this, as well as the aforementioned cursing, sexual situations, and just general high school mean girls and bullies.  If you can look beyond those things, however, you’ll find a book that is achingly beautiful, sad and heartwarming at the same time.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

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