Set over the course of one school year in 1986, ELEANOR AND PARK is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under.
Eleanor & Park has caused a bit of a sensation recently and as usual I am late to the party. To be honest, it’s been sitting in my ‘to be read’ [TBR] pile for quite a while and it was only with the nudging of one of my Goodreads pals (don’t forget to check out my book group on Goodreads here) that I finally dug it out and read it.
Eleanor & Park is the latest in a string of Young Adult (YA) novels that have been getting rave reviews (does this finally mean the end of the Twilight blight?). Eleanor & Park like so many of its counterparts is so much more than a book for young adults. Funny, clever, enchanting and heart breaking in equal measure it’s a book about first loves, growing pains and family.
One of the most talked about aspects of the novel is Eleanor, and more specifically Eleanor’s appearance. Eleanor is a ‘big girl’, describing herself as a “barmaid” she’s self-conscious about her figure and her peers take no prisoners in pointing it out. What’s different about Eleanor is that she isn’t on a diet throughout the novel; she isn’t even really all that fat – what is attention grabbing about Eleanor is that she’s normal. Yes she’s awkward, dresses differently, has family issues (that’s an understatement) but essentially she’s a normal teenager. The same goes for Park, half Korean with the ‘perfect’ home life he’s just trying to find himself and figure out where he fits in. I loved Eleanor and Park because they were teenagers that acted like teenagers, they weren't out to save the world, they weren't embroiled in some sort of supernatural war, they were just trying to get through life.
The simplicity of Eleanor & Park is what makes it so compelling. Rowell has an elegant writing style, the emotions of each character are palpable and will surely keep you engaged throughout. The book switches between Eleanor and Park and as the reader you come to know and love them both equally. Park is endearingly earnest and demonstrative, his fervor for Eleanor the stuff of teenage dreams. Eleanor herself is more reserved; her backstory and home life adds a darker but skillfully executed edge to the novel that helps keep it firmly grounded.
It’s no secret that I quite enjoy YA novels and Eleanor & Park was no different, I found myself unable to put it down and became completely embroiled in the lives of two teenagers in the mid 80s. Even if YA isn’t your thing, I would suggest that you give Eleanor & Park a chance, Rowell really highlights how sophisticated and enjoyable the genre can me. A mature novel about how sometimes life simply just gets in the way, Eleanor & Park is a haunting love story that will stay with you long after you’ve finished it.
Let me know your thoughts on YA and Eleanor & Park in the comments.