Eleanor and Park – Rainbow Rowell
Before we go any further let me start by saying that this book broke me a little, in a great and terrible way. Because there are kids like Eleanor, and families like hers, living quietly and desperately all around us, and most of the time we don’t even know or we try not to see. Because the climax of Eleanor’s family story is sickening and made me cry long after I’d turned the final page. Because there are families like Park’s who aren’t perfect but are good and are trying, and these two family stories overlapping is wonderful in its sadness.
I wanted to start by saying that because I’m now going to go on to say that I don’t think Eleanor and Park is a great love story, so I wanted to get those good bits out of the way before you couldn’t hear me over the roar of tweens with pitchforks.
Eleanor and Park isn’t a great love story, but I don’t know if it was necessarily meant to be. Without giving too much away, Eleanor and Park, by author Rainbow Rowell, is told from the perspectives of two main characters, Eleanor and Park (surprise!), and follows their relationship as it develops over a school year. Eleanor is the weird new kid, Park is a socially accepted misfit. They wind up sitting together on the bus to and from school, and build a pretty cute relationship that bounces along with all the highs and lows and pace that you’d expect of any realistic teen romance.
The way Rowell uses language to describe how both characters feel emotionally and physically as their relationship develops is pretty brilliant. There are so many quotable one liners that I expected the writing to start to feel contrived, but it didn’t. The book is written with a strong and really readable narrative voice that saves any moments that could otherwise seem overblown or corny. E&P really is worth reading just to experience Rowell’s masterful written craft.
Teen romance in dire or dramatic situations has been well established as the new cool in YA literature and Eleanor and Park plays this genre superbly. But the thing that Rowell gets really right in E&P is that the book isn’t all taken up with the love story, and instead really hones in on the external situations affecting both characters. The family stories of both Eleanor and Park are extremely important to the narrative and are really well developed. The pacing of the reveals of information, particularly about Eleanor’s family and background, is spot on, and makes the reading experience as tense as it is giddy.
I think that Eleanor and Park is a good love story, and a fun love story, but more than that I think that it’s a great story of family, of exploring and establishing identity and of growing up. It hits on some really dark themes (everything from domestic and sexual abuse to class systems and racism), elements which don’t seem to come up in a lot of reviews, but which I think are important to mention and important to see this book’s intended age group grappling with.
It’s not a light or airy book and it’s not all a happy read. It is, however, highly recommended by me.
What do you think, have you read Eleanor and Park and agree/disagree with me? I love to discuss books, so add your thoughts below.
**There’s so much talk of this book being made into a movie. This kind of horrifies me in the way that the idea of The Lovely Bones movie did, because while the love story and the characters were delightful, the darkest elements of this story haunt my mind enough without seeing them in technicolour. But it’s important that these kinds of stories get told and we live in a world where everything is a franchise, so it’s no wonder that earlier this year Dreamworks announced that they’d purchased the E&P film rights. Are you excited? I’m half stoked to see these characters come alive and half scared they’ll tone some of the seriousness which I loved down for the film.