Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Set over the course of one school year in 1986, ELEANOR AND 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. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under.
When I picked this book up, I was expecting a light and fun romance. Instead, Eleanor & Park broke my heart in a hundred different ways and made me cry tears of sadness, frustration, and anger. In other words, Eleanor & Park is a beautiful book.
The story alternates between Eleanor's point-of-view and Park's point-of-view. Both characters are what I would call misfits. They're eccentric and quirky and they don't exactly fit in with the other kids at school. They're smart and complex and interesting, and most importantly, they feel real. They were created and developed so thoroughly that I felt as if the two of them were people who actually existed in real life. It was easy to get sucked into the story of their lives, both separately and together.
I've heard people call this book historical fiction, which seems a little weird, since the 80s weren't that long ago, but there is definitely a gap that young adults reading this book today will notice. This book is set ten years before I was born, and so there were moments when I felt the difference between life then and life now. Sometimes I found myself wondering why the characters didn't just use their cell phones/Google/etc, until I remembered that those things weren't an option at the time. But for the most part, 1986 is close enough to 2013 that a teenager's experience isn't all that different. I could relate to Eleanor and Park so easily, because the struggles of any teenager will have similarities regardless of the time period. I think the setting of Eleanor & Park is really interesting and unusual. I've never read any other books like this that blur the lines between historical fiction and contemporary, and I love the format.
Since I went into this book expecting more of a fun and happy romance, I was surprised by how emotional the story of Eleanor and Park is. There are so many things preventing the two of them from being together, and there are so many things preventing each of them from being happy on their own. Eleanor and Park each struggle with vastly different home lives, and it hurt my heart to read about the situations they find themselves in. I found myself wishing that they could just be happy and content and surrounded by people who cared about them, but that is not the case in this book.
Eleanor & Park tackles some heavy topics, most importantly Eleanor's family situation. Eleanor's mother and younger siblings are treated terribly by Eleanor's stepfather, but they are in a place where they can't do anything to make their lives better. It made my heart ache to read about this broken home, but I was also grateful for the brutal honesty of this book. Rarely do I get so angry and frustrated at novels, but Eleanor & Park had me slamming the book closed at particularly frustrating sections because I couldn't bear to continue.
Overall, Eleanor & Park is a book that lived up to all the hype, although not in the way I thought it would. I expected a much happier story than what was actually hiding behind such a beautiful cover, but while it might not have been a happy story, it was a powerful one. Eleanor & Park made me cry tears of sadness and anger and frustration, in the best possible way. It was honest in an almost painful way, and it showed that not every story gets to be happy and fun. This book is beautiful and emotional, and it is a story that I know will stay with me for a long time.
Just a warning: if you do decide to pick this book up, please be aware that it might break your heart. I think it's definitely worth reading, but if you want to read something light and fun, don't choose this book. It deals with some heavy topics, and it was not easy to read at times. It made me really sad, and I know these kinds of books aren't for everyone. But ultimately, I'm glad I read Eleanor & Park, and I'm excited to read more of Rainbow Rowell's books in the future.