Review: ‘Eleanor & Park’ by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor and Park

Eleanor is the new girl in town, and with her chaotic family life, her mismatched clothes and unruly red hair, she couldn’t stick out more if she tried.

Park is the boy at the back of the bus. Black T-shirts, headphones, head in a book – he thinks he’s made himself invisible. But not to Eleanor… never to Eleanor.

Slowly, steadily, through late-night conversations and an ever-growing stack of mix tapes, Eleanor and Park fall for each other. They fall in love the way you do the first time, when you’re young, and you feel as if you have nothing and everything to lose.

I bought this over a year ago, and it’s taken it this long to work to the top of my TBR pile. So I expect most of you will have already read it if you’re going to, but anyway…

I really enjoyed Eleanor & Park, for so many reasons, but I didn’t adore it — and I’m really struggling to put my finger on exactly why that is. Maybe I was in the mood for something a little more fun? I didn’t really know much about the book except that it was a contemporary romance set in the 80s (or do the 80s count as historical now?!).

Don’t get me wrong, there are fun parts to Eleanor & Park — I started high school at the end of the 80s so all the references to mix tapes and big hair made me gigglecringe (that’s totally a word). I loved their banter about comic books, and the way they bonded over them almost by accident. When Park tells Eleanor he’s going to give her the best Batman comic ever to read and she makes a crack about how in that one Batman raises two eyebrows instead of one, I laughed. A lot.

But, well, when the blurb talks about Eleanor’s chaotic family life, chaotic isn’t the right word. Horrific. Abusive. Dreadful (in the sense that, as a reader, it fills you with dread). It isn’t a fun place to experience. Park becomes Eleanor’s escape from all that, and I loved him for it — almost as much as she loved him.

As far as the plot goes, this story is heavy on the romance. I saw the plot twists coming — I tend to do that in romances; I don’t know why that is given I don’t read that many. But I didn’t mind too much. It was definitely a fast read, and technically well executed.

Rainbow Rowell’s writing is very, very good. She jumps between Eleanor’s and Park’s perspective all the time, but with little subheadings so you know who you’re reading about (it’s not just sloppy head-hopping like you sometimes see). There isn’t much description of the world around them — only the things that they think are important, which works. My favourite scenes were the high-emotion scenes where she gives you a snippet from each character and their thoughts mirror one another. It was so beautiful. *sniff*

The other thing worth mentioning is that both Eleanor and Park come across as real people. Park is half-Korean and looks it (unlike his brother, who looks more Irish). Eleanor is overweight. One of the sweetest things is that, when you see each character through the other’s eyes, they are the most beautiful things ever. Park never even seems to notice that Eleanor is overweight. Eleanor does notice that Park looks Korean, but she adores everything about him — especially his skin and his eyes.

If you love contemporary YA, 80s perms, comics and mix tapes, then Eleanor & Park is definitely worth checking out.

Four stars

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