When Park sees Eleanor walk onto the bus, he can’t look away. She’s like some kind of elaborately decorated train wreck. Park has a very tenuous, very small bit of social status. He certainly doesn’t have any to waste on the crazy looking new girl.
Eleanor doesn’t want to be on the bus sitting next to the weird Asian kid even if he is the only one who will give her a seat. She doesn’t want to be at a new school. She definitely doesn’t want to be in the same house as Richie even if her mom swears things will be different this time. Eleanor doesn’t believe anything can really be different. Not for her. Not anymore.
At least they don’t have to talk to each other.
Reading the same comic doesn’t count as actually being friends. Neither does wanting to hold hands. Or sharing mix tapes and batteries. Eleanor and Park both remember that first moment on the bus. What they don’t understand is how they got from that first moment to a very different moment where no one else matters in Eleanor & Park (2012) by Rainbow Rowell.
Eleanor & Park is Rowell’s second novel. It is preceded by her adult debut The Attachments.
Set in Omaha in 1986, Eleanor & Park is technically a historical novel. I have wondered about the choice of time period,* and how it will appeal to actual teen readers, but at the end of the day it works. Rowell includes numerous references to the time including bands Eleanor and Park listen to, comics they read and more passing references to pop culture of the era.** I was born in 1986 and I caught about 98% of the references in this book. I’m not sure how younger readers would fair or if it would even be an issue to the overall reading experience.
Eleanor & Park is written in third person but it alternates between both Eleanor and Park’s point of view allowing readers to understand their changing relationship even faster than the characters themselves. Eleanor & Park is one of the most romantic books ever–without, I might add, really being a romance. Instead this book shares a snapshot of Park and Eleanor’s lives.
I’ve heard people call this book sad or even heartbreaking. And there are some terrible moments, especially with Eleanor’s circumstances becoming increasingly terrible. But there is also more than that as the story showcases smaller moments of happiness and hope. Ultimately, in addition to being a favorite read, Eleanor & Park is one of the most optimistic and hopeful books I’ve read this year.***
Rowell’s writing in Eleanor & Park is seamless as she weaves together the stories of an incredibly unlikely pair that is somehow incredibly right. If this book doesn’t get some attention during awards season I (along with most of the reading public) will be incredibly surprised.
*Rowell has a thoughtful post on her blog called “Why is Park Korean?” I never thought Park’s ethnicity was a big question–or something that should be questioned at all really–but that post does offer some insight into the choice of setting.
**My most favorite was an early reference to the Clint Eastwood movie Any Which Way But Loose. And of course Park’s dad looking like my favorite 1980s private investigator was excellent.
***Everyone has a different idea about three certain words at the end of the story. Personally, I am completely confident everything works out as it should.
Possible Pairings: Strings Attached by Judy Blundell, The Secret Life of Prince Charming by Deb Caletti, The Last True Love Story by Brendan Kiely, Stealing Henry by Carolyn MacCullough, This Raging Light by Estelle Laure, The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta, Watchmen by Alan Moore, Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner