- Hardcover: 336 pages
- Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin (February 26, 2013)
- ISBN-10: 1250012570
- Source: Library copy
The year is 1986 in Omaha, Nebraska. Park is a sixteen-year-old part Asian boy living in a mostly white community. He’s not an outcast but due to his interest in alternative music and comics forces him to stand apart from the others. One morning, a new kid climbs on the school bus. Eleanor has bright red hair and a unique taste in clothing. It’s almost as if she is trying to draw attention to herself. Unaware of the politics of school bus seating, Eleanor instantly becomes the target of bullies riding the bus. Attempting to put an end to the confrontation, Park orders her to sit down next to him. For the longest time, they ignore one another. Park tunes out the world, headphones blaring on his head, flipping through pages of his favorite comics. One day he notices Eleanor reading along and their relationship begins to change.
Soon he begins to bring in comics for Eleanor to borrow and their joint interest sparks conversation. As Park begins to learn more about Eleanor, their friendship begins to evolve into something more. Eleanor is one of five children living with their mother and abusive step-father. She’s forced to wash her hair with flea shampoo and must hurry to take a bath right after work for fear of being accosted by her step-father. She was kicked out once before, forced to live with friends of her mother, and she fears the same will happen. Now that she has someone who understands her, appreciates her uniqueness, she doesn’t want to put an end to the life she has now, even if it means dealing with her step father’s verbal abuse.
Eleanor and Park quickly bond. Both ostracized for various reasons (Eleanor for her appearance and Park for his ethnicity) the two are drawn together. The unavoidable challenge is whether or not their relationship can stand up against all the elements driving them apart.
There are so many things that I loved about this book. Set in the late 80s, I was instantly taken back to my own youth with flashbacks to Esprit tote bags and the alternative music that was just starting to become popular. Eleanor and Park were the most adorable couple. They were genuine teens with real teen issues. I instantly felt a connection with Eleanor. Growing up, I didn’t always have what other kids my age had, I didn’t have the trendy clothes and had to be creative with what I did have. Fortunately, my home life was far more stable than hers but I still found aspects of her life to which I could relate.
I think it’s tremendously important for young adult novels to have characters like Eleanor and Park so teens growing up with issues have someone with which to connect. I don’t read a lot of young adult, mainly because I feel that some of the popular titles create unrealistic worlds for the teen readers with overinflated characters they are unable to connect with. Perhaps they have a better life or are economically privileged and can have whatever they want. But what makes this title brilliant is the fact that Eleanor and Park do not have this fairy-tale life. They are genuine. While their fate wasn’t necessarily a happy one, it was real, not artificially constructed to leave readers with a happy ending.
Additionally, while it was set nearly thirty years ago, it is my belief that young adults can still connect to the characters. Setting it in this time frame allows the author to avoid some of more modern issues teens are dealing with now, instead focusing on the wonderful relationship between Eleanor and Park.
I was devastated when I finished reading this book. I didn’t want to cut the ties to Eleanor and Park and the life they had together. Eleanor and Park reminded me what it was like to be a teen again, a time when I thought not having the right clothes or the right friends meant the end of the world. It allowed me to see just how lucky in life I am, this book is a true gift. It has been quite some time since a book has left me feeling this way, a testament to Rowell’s writing. I recommend this book highly to all readers, even if you do not typically read young adult. Eleanor and Park will have a resounding effect on your soul. I know they did with mine.