Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell centres on two teenagers in the 80s, one half Korean boy who lives a fairly cushy life, and a slightly overweight girl living with her highly dysfunctional family in a small and run down home with little money. These two do not seem like the type to get along, but a gradual relationship develops between the two as they sit together on the bus each morning. There isn’t a trace of insta-love in this novel and the relationship between Eleanor and Park develops very slowly but you savour each and every moment.
I think what’s great about this book is that it isn’t your typical high school romance. This isn’t a story about “opposites attract”, but rather the interesting development of a relationship between two very different characters that somehow complement each other. These characters are not perfect, they are flawed individually and as a couple. They argue lots and sometimes Eleanor/Park really annoyed me (REALLY annoyed me), but I liked this about Eleanor & Park because it made the characters seem more real and alive.
Eleanor & Park doesn’t come across as sappy in the slightest. In places where it could be, a character acknowledges the sappiness of the situation, which again, makes these characters seem real. They are definitely not characters living in a world of make believe! It is Eleanor’s difficult home life which keeps this story grounded as she comes from a difficult background. She has a large family and is often picked on at school but her attitude towards these things seems very human. She is brave sometimes, but not always; she is sometimes selfish, but recognises this, though acknowledges that guilt doesn’t make her feel any different. There is just something so raw and truthful about the everything that goes through these two teenagers mind.
What I found rather strange and hard to get my head around was the fact that this book was written in a dual narrative but in the third person. This was a fascinating way of getting right into Eleanor and Park’s head, but also giving the reader enough distance so that there was an air of mystery around what each character was thinking at every second. It was especially fascinating reading the different POVs of these two characters as they are wildly different, and yet at one. You can see that there are vast differences in the way that these characters think and feel and it’s sort of like the reader is keeping secrets for both Eleanor and Park, which you cannot reveal to the other person. I was rather touched by this novel on a personal level even though I can’t really relate to any of the content, simply because the narrative is so full of real emotions which seem truthful and heartfelt.
I have to say that I don’t think I was quite as enamoured by this book as the rest of it’s readers. Sure, Eleanor & Park is a fantastic novel and it is awfully cute/heartbreaking but I wouldn’t peg it as a five star read as many before me have. I think the thing that bothered me the most about this book is the lack of plot. Although this was a very nice snippet from the teenage years of Eleanor and Park, I felt that perhaps this snippet was directionless and didn’t really have a plot that built up.
I would say that this book simply follows the relationship of Eleanor and Park from the very beginning, but everything is a bit up in the air at the end, which may appeal to some, but for me it just seemed like the story was missing another chapter. I’d say that this story is much more about the thoughts and feelings of these two characters and not on any sort of event that happens in either one of their lives.
All in all, Eleanor & Park is a great novel, though perhaps a little more style than substance. The writing is superb and highly addictive so you will no doubt be drawn in and unable to put this book down; however, don’t bother waiting for some sort of major event to ‘happen’ because it’s not going to. That’s probably the only downside to this book as it really is very well written and a pleasure to read.