by Rainbow Rowell
Published on February 26, 2013
by St Martins Griffin
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Summary from jacket flap: Eleanor: red hair, wrong clothes. Standing beside him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough ... Eleanor.
Park: He knows she'll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punchline. There's a place on his chest , just below her throat, that makes her want to keep promises ... Park.
Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen year olds -- smart enough to know that true love never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.
My take: If you love realistic YA fiction, you've got to put Eleanor and Park on your to-read list. It's really something special. It's a love story, it's a gritty family drama, it's a story about bullying and outcasts -- all woven together with a magic and subtlety that astonished me. Usually books like this -- books about kids that don't fit in, kids who have tough home lives, kids who are picked on -- are written with a fair amount of hand-wringing and fist-shaking. Which is okay with me, because these are important issues, to be sure.
In contrast, Eleanor and Park just shows us these two characters and their worlds. Eleanor is the new girl at school. Her hair is too red and her clothes are too odd and she's immediately a target for the mean kids on the bus. Park doesn't really fit in either -- he's half-Korean in a school that's, as the book describes it, "seriously white." But Park flies under the social radar. He smiles at the kung fu jokes and puts on his headphones to drown out all the noise.
Park didn't have any luck -- or status -- to spare on that dumb redhead.
When Park sees Eleanor on the bus, his first thought is that she's crazy to look that weird on purpose. She starts reading comic books over his shoulder. He gives her one to borrow. Note: they still haven't said a word to each other at this point. Eleanor's home life is tough. It takes a number of chapters to piece together exactly what's going on, but it's clear that she hates her stepfather and dreads being at home. She and Park fall hard for each other, a relationship that seems born of mutual understanding as much as teen hormones. And I loved the fact that the book even pokes gentle fun at their love, having Eleanor mock Romeo and Juliet to her English teacher, saying "they don't even know each other." Park's response? That the play endures because "people want to remember what it's like to be young and in love."
Eleanor and Park definitely gets that "first love" feeling just right: the desperation, the scheming, the awkwardness, the pure magic, the inevitable heartbreak. Like Juliet, Eleanor has to hide her relationship with Park. Her difficult life at home is presented with such matter-of-fact, soul-crushing detail that I had to pause in my reading a few times. I sat there, wondering about those kids I remembered from school, the ones who never had clean gym clothes, who spent lunch in the library, who walked through the halls with a wary expression.
I definitely related a lot to Park. I also attended a very homogenous high school and, like Park, I fit in just enough but not completely. This book is set in the 1980s, and I confess to memories of mix tapes and gym suits and 867-5309 and moms who gave home perms in the garage.
Eleanor didn't have anywhere to hide her secrets ... She was running out of time with him.
As their love deepens, Eleanor's situation at home gets more dire. The ending of this book was moving. Realistic. Poignant. Beautifully subtle. Don't miss this one!
Giveaway Alert: St. Martin’s Press is giving away a set of Harman Headphones to celebrate the release of Eleanor & Park. One grand-prize winner with receive a set of headphones and Eleanor & Park. Twenty runners-up will receive a copy of the book.
Click here to enter the Eleanor & Park Headphone Sweepstakes!
Enter through Wednesday, March 6.