Elaine Lui of Lainey Gossip has been figuratively yelling at me since 2013 to read Eleanor & Park. She brings it up regularly when talking about other YA books. It was a book I kept meaning to get around to reading but just never put in the effort of getting my hands on a copy. When I realized it was an option for the So Popular! bingo square, it seemed fated that I would finally read Eleanor & Par,k and complete my second bingo in the process.
I could not put this book down. Rainbow Rowell instantly sucks you into the world of teenage drama and angst by starting the story on a school bus. School bus rides were torture for me growing up, like Park I tried to escape through through reading but sadly did not have music to help physically drown out the other people on the bus. Like Eleanor, I was the most uncool person on the bus and people avoided sitting with me. From the very beginning, I connected with aspects of Park and Eleanor. I suspect many readers do. They are fully developed characters with all the insecurities and turbulent emotions I remember from my teen years.
There are so many things I like about this book. I really enjoyed how the story alternates between Eleanor and Park’s perspectives, it makes for an interesting dynamic as you see both sides of interactions. Rushing along side the two of them as they fall into their first love, and all the joy and bewilderment that is a part of the intense beginning of a romance. How you get to experience their delayed reactions as they come to a realization after an event has happened.
I appreciate their different perspectives on what they have. Eleanor is all to aware of the fragility of love and the realism that it doesn’t last forever. Park never wants it to end and believes that she is the one and only. Eleanor and Park make mistakes and fumble but they both know how precious their relationship is and want to protect it as best they can.
But this story wouldn’t pack the emotional punch that it does if it was only about their romance. The challenges of bullying that Eleanor experiences at school are bad enough but reading about her home life was rough. Though this is a work of fiction, the shape of Eleanor’s story is all to real. Tension would wind through with each new reveal of how awful and toxic the situation is for her and her family. Park’s difficulties of self identity, acceptance of his Korean heritage, and struggles with his father pale in comparison but are no less distressing.
The end of the book tore my heart out. I knew they weren’t going to get the fairytale ending but I kept rooting for them and holding out hope that it would somehow all work out. Tears sprang to my eyes and my heart made one final leap at the last sentence. This is a truly incredible book and I’m sorry it took me so long to read it.