I first read Eleanor and Park a few years ago. A friend had asked me to join her at a reading by Rainbow Rowell, so I read this in preparation. Eleanor and Park is the perfect introduction to Rowell, and just a wonderful book in general.
Probably most of you know the story by now. Two teenagers–Eleanor, a misfit with a terrible home life, and Park, an average Joe who feels alienated from his family and classmates, meet, connect, and eventually fall in love. Teen romance is the subject of so much of our pop culture, and Rowell reminds you why: adolescent emotions are powerful, man. I tend to roll my eyes a bit at our culture’s tendency to make so much of the teenage years, but there’s no way I could be so cynical about Eleanor and Park’s romance. Rowell’s writing is so evocative, I’m not sure there’s any other writer out there who could actually make me feel this nostalgic for adolescence.
The romance is only part of what makes this book special–Rowell’s descriptions of Eleanor and Park’s home lives are so realistic. Park’s family is middle-class. His dad is ex-military and wants his sons to be appropriately masculine, which Park is not, but other than that it’s a fairly average, happy home. Eleanor, meanwhile is from the other side of the tracks. Her mother is in an abusive relationship, and Rowell skillfully portrays how this affects Eleanor and her siblings as well. The family struggles to have enough money to afford necessities like food and clothing.
I wish this book had been around when I was a teenager. I would’ve taken so much comfort in reading about Eleanor and her struggles to fit in, and perhaps I would have skipped over a few bad boyfriends if I’d know boys like Park might exist somewhere. If there’s anyone out there who hasn’t read it–you should.