ELEANOR & PARK – Rainbow Rowell

The GoodReads description for this book reads:

Set over the course of one school year in 1986, Eleanor & 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. 

Which, if weren’t for the cover, would have made me say “meh” and move on. But this story is so very much more. 

Each of these characters is a unique misfit in their own way. Eleanor because of her crazy hair, pale skin and thrift store clothing; Park because he’s the only half-Asian kid in school, delicately built and more interested in The Smiths than football.

The first time Park sees Eleanor boarding the school bus, all he feels is humiliation for her. He can tell just by looking at her that the other kids will be merciless. So can everyone on the bus – in fact, no one will even let her sit with them. Finally, after watching her stand awkwardly in the aisle for two stops, he gives in and tells her to sit with him. Just so he can stop watching her stand there. 

Not a romantic start or love at first sight. Quite the opposite. Their unlikely friendship is slowly born in complete and utter silence. Eleanor starts reading Park’s comic books surreptitiously as she sits next to him on the bus every day. And for some reason Park doesn’t quite understand, he lets her. He even silently hands one to her to borrow. And so it begins.

I won’t say anything more about the plot, because part of the fun is in discovering it for yourself. But I will say that I read this entire book in a day. And that it made me have FEELINGS. Lots of them, and all in capitals. This may be a YA book, but some of the complexities are better understood when reading it as an adult. Which isn’t to say teens won’t get it – they totally will – just that there’s so much depth here that there’s plenty for adults to sink their teeth into as well.

Rowell has that rare ability to draw the details so aptly that you can see and feel everything in the story as it unfolds. The scenery, the cruelty teenagers are capable of, the complicity of home dynamics and the emotions of the characters. All of it is so empathetically written that it’s impossible not to be drawn in. It’s particularly evocative if you were around for the ’80s (which I was – yep, I’m that old). Likewise the plot is consistently unrolled and at no point did I find myself wondering when they’d just get on with it, as I usually do at least once over the course of a novel. 

This is one of those books that I know will stick with me, and that I’ll be sorting out my reaction to for quite a long time. Which is always the sign of an exceptionally well-crafted story. Next time you have a Saturday to yourself, crank up your fave ’80s tunes and curl up with Eleanor & Park. But make sure you’ve got a whole day, because you will want to finish it in one go. And if you’re hungry for more Rowell, check out her other book, Attachments, and her upcoming novel Fangirl. Oh, and follow her on Twitter, of course: @rainbowrowell. //<![CDATA[ var sc_project=10144299; var sc_invisible=1; var sc_security="82f610c9"; var scJsHost = (("https:" == document.location.protocol) ? "https://secure." : "http://www."); document.write("”); //]]>

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