The year is 1986, and Eleanor and Park are two misfit teens who couldn’t be more different from one another. Eleanor is the new girl who quickly earns the name “Big Red” for her bright red hair and slightly overweight build. Park, on the other hand, is a half Korean, who is popular with his fellow classmates, but tries to avoid hanging out with the “in-crowd.” When the two are forced to sit beside each other on the same bus, however, a friendship, and eventually a relationship, slowly emerges through their shared love of comic books and music. Knowing that first loves rarely last, however, Eleanor is hesitant to let Park completely into her life, but slowly lets her heart take over.
When I picked up my copy of Eleanor and Park from the library, I expected several things:
1. A cute love story
2. A typical star crossed lover’s scenario
3. A happy ending
While the novel certainly delivers all three of these aspects to various degrees, what I didn’t expect was just how moving, and heartrending everything else in between would be. Raising issues like bullying, abuse, and poverty, Eleanor and Park is not afraid to take a look at the realities of the real world while simultaneously spinning a touching love story. I think John Green described their predicament the best: “Every romance has its obstacle: I have another boyfriend; my parents say we can’t; you’re a vampire and I’m not; etc. But the obstacle in Eleanor and Park is simply the world.”
What I enjoyed most about Eleanor and Park, however, was Rowell’s fantastic characterization. I fell in love with Park immediately. Caring and committed, it was sweet watching Park come alive whenever Eleanor was around. It took me slightly longer to embrace Eleanor. Distant and sometimes moody, Eleanor’s determination to continually shove Park away annoyed me at first. As Eleanor’s home situation increasingly worsened, however, I understood her decisions, even if I didn’t agree with them. Surprisingly, my favourite characters ended up being Park’s mother and father. Although they didn’t always get along with Park, they did their best to understand their son, and their relationship with each other was heartwarming. Plus, Park’s mom was just plain adorable!
My only issue with this book was that the ending came far too quickly. Without spoiling the ending, I’ll say that while I came to terms with Rowell’s decision to end Eleanor and Park’s story the way that she did, 90% of readers will most likely be a little bit annoyed at first. But don’t let my warning about the ending prevent you from picking up this book! Touching and emotional at times, Eleanor and Park was a wonderful read. I’m already looking forward to seeing what Rowell comes up with next!