Goodreads: Eleanor and Park
Eleanor’s clothes don’t fit quite right. Her sense of style is loud. He body type isn’t the ideal. And the kids at her new school are determined to make her feel unwelcome because of it. But then she meets Park. He’s cool and attractive and everything she’s not. But, somehow, he seems to like her anyway.
I do not typically read romances and I have even started reading less YA as the number of books with similar plots and premises has made me feel discouraged about the amount of originality to be found on the shelves. How many dypstopians can one read before they all sound the same? However, Eleanor and Park captured my heart from the start. With its sensitively-drawn characters, its realistic look at high school and the pain of growing up, its unique character voices, and its beautiful prose style, this book stands apart.
Eleanor and Park is charmingly told through the perspectives of both titular characters so readers can follow the evolution of their relationship through both sides. We see Eleanor’s disastrous first day on the bus through the eyes of Park, who wishes to remain untainted by her distinct un-coolness. We see how Park begins to look past Eleanor’s weird clothes and realizes that she’s beautiful and smart and confident. We see Eleanor’s painful home life, and learn the real reason she dresses in strange clothes–not because that’s necessarily her style, but because her family can afford nothing else. We realize Eleanor is not as cool and confident as Park believes. We see what both hides from the other, and the way they navigate their relationship as a result. Very often perspective-switching is just annoying for readers, but Rowell uses it here effortlessly to tell a story that could be told no other way.
Eleanor’s home life is one of the most compelling parts of this story. Her family is living in poverty. Eleanor gets no new clothes. She and her siblings are hungry. She uses the same soap for everything–hair, body, dishes. She doesn’t even own a toothbrush. And her stepfather? He hates her. And her mother does little to protect her. Eleanor is alone and won’t ask for help, won’t be a burden on anyone, even though she’s afraid all the time because she knows how close she is to the edge. She’s seen too often how little anyone cares to help.
Park, meanwhile, remains good-naturedly oblivious. He knows that Eleanor cannot go out, cannot be seen with him. But he does not really know. He thinks “My stepfather will kill me” is an expression. He cannot imagine a stepfather who really would. And even after he begins to piece together parts of Eleanor’s home life, he never comments on it. He seems to have no revelations about why Eleanor wears strange clothes or why she is so often flustered and scared and tired. His world is too far from hers.
But their divergent worlds is part of what makes their story so charming. Eleanor and Park, on the surface, should not work–but they do. And Rowell delivers every moment of the teenage rush of first love in careful, beautiful, exuberant prose. Eleanor and Park are alive and their time together is infinite and rushed and loud and soft and absolutely perfect even when it is flawed. They are still very young.
Eleanor and Park stole my breath with its beautiful romance and its devastating close. Teenage love is a fragile thing, and Rowell handles it delicately. She has readers believing along with the protagonists, at least for a moment, that true love can stop a world from breaking.