Friday, January 24, 2014

Review of Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

St. Martin's Griffin

Eleanor & Park
by Rainbow Rowell
5 Scribbles
Have you ever heard someone trash the idea of young love? What’s great about this novel is that it takes the world’s cynical outlook on young love and turns it on its head.  
Park has his own seat on the bus to school, and he likes it that way. But then one day Eleanor steps onto the bus. Eleanor is clearly out of her mind—she’s dressed in men’s clothing, has fishing tackle in her hair and men’s ties around her wrists, and Park knows instantly she’s a target. In a rare show of mercy, he gives up his solo seat before the morons in the back of the bus can maul Eleanor. Soon he realizes that Eleanor is much more than her clothing choices. She’s interesting, strangely beautiful despite her odd dress, and they have a lot in common.  It isn’t long before Park falls in love. What he doesn’t know is that Eleanor is from “the other side of the tracks.” She doesn’t have the resources or home life that Park has; in fact, her life is a tragedy all its own, and what Park doesn’t know is that he’s quickly becoming Eleanor’s only lifeline.

Eleanor and Park’s story is set in the 1980s, an important factor for a few reasons. First, some of the music Park loves may be strange to those readers who aren’t accustomed to some of the alternative and punk bands that were the rage in the 1980s. No worries, readers will get a musical education as they read. Another factor that I really enjoyed was the lack of cell phones or any social media. Of course, I grew up in this time, so I remember what it was like to be in some ways isolated from people, but in other ways be closer to friends because contact was made in person or via land lines.  Readers may find this odd, but they will also see how this lack of technology brings Park and Eleanor closer, and helps to create the tragedy their love will eventually endure.  And the characters! The characters in this novel are real! They step off the pages and into your gym class, onto your street, and into the house next door. Park is the cool, good-looking, quirky guy and Eleanor is mature beyond her years, both in body and mind. The two connect on a powerful level, and the reader will root for their relationship from page one. Park’s parents are amazing—with a love story all their own. The villains are despicable.  Eleanor’s mother is a villain because she has allowed herself to become a victim and sacrificed her children in the process. Richie is the drunk, lecherous stepfather we all love to hate, and the jerks at school are the typical high school “in” click. What isn’t typical is the strength of the relationship that develops between Park and Eleanor, and their individual story. Just because an individual may be young, doesn’t mean that they have the inability to feel true, strong, and powerful love. What is the real tragedy in young love is when circumstances, not immaturity, keep young lovers apart.  Eleanor and Park is a tragedy that Shakespeare would envy, but it is also an elevation of love and commitment between two teens with limited choices but strength of character. It’s a marvelous, riveting novel with amazing conflict, plot development and characterization. I loved every edgy word of it, especially the amazing, realistic, and inspiring last three words.    


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