Awkward, cute, terrifying, hopeful, angsty, heart-breaking.
Eleanor & Park (2013) is a contemporary YA by the incredibly talented Rainbow Rowell. It follows two highschool students: Park, a half Korean, half in-with-the-cool-kids teenage boy who doesn’t quite fit in his community and his own skin. Then there’s red-headed misfit Eleanor, who’s secret home life drags this novel into a much darker place than I had expected.
I’m often wary of YA contemporary, having been incredibly disappointed by the ever popular John Green. But Rainbow Rowell is different. There’s no manic pixie dream girl here to teach the boy about himself while remaining a two dimensional illusion. The protagonists aren’t pseudo-philosophic tumblr quotes with skin on. Instead, in Eleanor & Park, we find two very real teens, awkward, nervous, never quite knowing what to say, and struggling to make the best of bad situations.
The relationship feels real, the heartbreak feels real, and the way the characters talk and interact doesn’t make me think of the author sitting behind their computer, trying to find that perfect, Instagram worthy line. These characters are real guys! Just go with it.
The people populating this book aren’t perfect. They make bad, even terrifying decisions. They say the worst things at the worst times. But that’s why I loved them, because they’re so relate-able. Relationships are hard, people are awful, we make mistakes, and even though the world of Eleanor & Park is at times life with the dial up to 11, we can very easily find ourselves in this tale of love and loss.
Rainbow Rowell knows just how to grab her readers, not letting go till the final line that will leave you staring at the page, internally screaming “PLEASE, JUST ONE MORE PAGE!!!”.
I loved Fangirl but I think I love Eleanor & Park more.
5 out of 5 stars