High school is rough. It’s a time of confusion about who you are, and where you’re going, and what you want in your life. There’s bullying, and unrequited crushes, and arguments with your parents. These are all simply a part of what made Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell so unbelievably relatable.
This book is the story of two misfits who find solace from their troubled lives in music and comic books and time together. Eleanor is a heavyset teenager with wild red curls who wears men’s clothing, and things like curtain ties for hair decorations. She lives in a two bedroom rickety house with her mother, stepfather and four siblings, and things are not ideal in her home life. To make things worse she’s the new girl, making her even more of a target for bullying at school. Park in the meantime is a half-Korean who does Tae Kwon Do and is constantly trying to live up to his father’s expectations. He does his best to blend into his high school, though when he gets forced to sit next to Eleanor on the bus, all of that changes.
Set in Omaha Nebraska in 1986, the story weaves a tale of romance and high school drama intermixed with the two difficult lives of two teenagers just trying to survive another day.
This book was one of the most touching love stories I’ve read in a while. I found it relatable in many aspects of its portrayal of teenage life, but also beautiful in the uplifting story beyond the stereotypical high school drama. I loved that it pointed out how silly romance can be, making fun of the stereotypical Romeo and Juliette star-crossed lovers motif, but also continuing to give hope in finding comfort and strength in friendship and love.
This book caused me to cry multiple times. It was interesting because Rainbow Rowell’s book Fangirl is one of my other favorites, but it never made me feel quite so emotional in spite of the fact that the main character was even more relatable to me. Even so, the way Rowell writes simply inspires a level of understanding for these two strange protagonists, even if neither is like any other character I’ve encountered before.
One other aspect I loved in this novel was the defiance of gender stereotypes. I’ve rarely read a novel with a female protagonist who wasn’t described as attractive in some respect. Certainly, Park finds Eleanor lovely in her own way, but the fact that she was overweight and a redhead made her stand out to me. In the same way, I loved that Park struggled with figuring out how to please his overly masculine father while trying to be himself, constantly being told he was being a pussy. In terms of encouraging kids to be themselves and not worry about living up to a gender stereotype, I thought this novel hit that message right on the mark.
In fact, one of the most relatable sections I’ve ever read in a book was from this novel.
Eleanor is letting Park’s mom, a beautician, fix her up with a makeover.
“But I don’t wear makeup.”
Maybe Eleanor should say that she wasn’t allowed to. That would sound nicer than, Because makeup is a lie.
“I don’t know,” Eleanor said. “It’s just not me.”
I have never in my life encountered a female protagonist who I could relate to in this aspect. Those words “makeup is a lie” are something I’ve felt and said before, and I really appreciated having someone who understood me in that respect.
But even in the aspects I couldn’t understand, like dealing with being torn between two different cultures, or struggling with poverty, or dealing with an abusive stepparent, I thought Rowell communicated these characters well enough that I had a level of sympathy for Eleanor and Park regardless of having not experienced the same things.
I highly recommend reading this book. I think it speaks a beautiful amount of truth in multiple areas of life, and Rowell’s style is one that never fails to amuse me. It’s a good book if you love romance and young adult fiction, or if you’re just looking for a fun and easy read with unique characters and a touching story.
Also, there is a plan to make it into a movie! So it’s always good to get the book read before the movie comes out. Just a little extra motivation.