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Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & Park (edition 2013)

by Rainbow Rowell

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2,8462872,040 (4.23)241
Title:Eleanor & Park
Authors:Rainbow Rowell
Info:St. Martin's Griffin (2013), Hardcover, 320 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:2013, Fiction, Romance

Work details

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

  1. 00
    The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: Both of these emotionally intense realistic fiction novels are set in the recent past, and feature misfit protagonists working through the agonies and ecstasies of first love, friendship, and surviving high school.
  2. 00
    I'll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan (bluenotebookonline)

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English (284)  Spanish (1)  German (1)  All languages (286)
Showing 1-5 of 284 (next | show all)
Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try ( )
  cjordan916 | Jul 26, 2015 |
Wonderful teenage romance, evokes Romeo and Juliet. ( )
  joeydag | Jul 23, 2015 |
Short version: Sweet(ish) story with dark undertones, about first love between two geeky, outcast teens. It takes place in Omaha, Nebraska in 1986 and the chapters alternate between Eleanor's and Park's perspectives. While it is ultimately a story about two teens who find acceptance with each other, there are A LOT of serious issues crammed into this book: poverty, alcoholism, abuse, bullying, racism, masculinity and being Asian/biracial. It was darker than than the adorable book cover led me to believe. The handling of racial issues might bother some readers. It is a quick read. I am not overly enthusiastic about books centered on a couple falling in love, but the unconventional coupling and the touching portrayal of an awkward high school romance makes this one interesting. I am really curious about Rainbow Rowell's other work now.

Long version, spoilery:

But Park didn’t have any luck—or status—to spare on that dumb redhead. He had just enough to keep himself out of trouble. And he knew it was crappy, but he was kind of grateful that people like that girl existed. Because people like Steve and Mikey and Tina existed, too, and they needed to be fed. If it wasn’t that redhead, it was going to be somebody else. And if it wasn’t somebody else, it was going to be Park.

Eleanor & Park takes place in Omaha, Nebraska during 1986. The first encounter between the two protagonists is on a school bus and they are really leery of one another. Over time they discover that they have shared interests and their relationship quickly picks up steam. The pull towards a person with similar interests is strong! (DID WE JUST BECOME BEST FRIENDS!?) Outside of their relationship, Eleanor is dealing with school bullying and an abusive stepfather and Park a Korean-American who feels like an outsider in a mostly white community and with his masculine father.

Disclaimer: I 'm not typically overly enthusiastic about books that center on a love story. I usually just like them rather than love them. I was hoping this book might be an exception. It wasn't, but there were a lot of aspects I really liked! The unconventional coupling is what made this book most interesting to me. Eleanor isn't stereotypically beautiful or undercover gorgeous. She is an average girl and Park is a geeky boy. They are both super awkward and they move at a slow pace physically. The alternating perspective was really effective, because we were able to see their inner thoughts contrasted with what actually came out of their mouths. Rainbow Rowell really captured that nervous, exciting feeling of first love! I loved viewing Eleanor and Park through each other's eyes, especially compared to how they saw themselves.

At first Park is scared how his classmates and family will view his relationship with Eleanor, but that attitude shifts as their relationship progresses. Park becomes the ideal sweet and super understanding boyfriend. (He reminded me a little of the perfect imaginary boyfriend from Inside Out: "I would DIE for Riley!" ) I could really relate to Eleanor's school life, where routine situations quickly turn into exercises of extreme humiliation! Eleanor's reaction when Park gives her a light makeover is so dramatic, but I can remember feeling the exact same way. (‘I just, I look like I’m in costume. Like I’m trying to be something that I’m not.’ Like she was trying to be pretty and popular. It was the trying part that was so disgusting.) She has a really self-deprecating and dry sense of humor that helps her deal with the constant barrage of bullying. ("The other girls all laughed, even the black girls who hated Tina. Laughing at Eleanor was Dr. King's mountain." Eleanor's way of saying that making fun of her brought people of all kinds together.)

Or maybe, he thought now, he just didn’t recognize all those other girls. The way a computer drive will spit out a disk if it doesn’t recognize the formatting. When he touched Eleanor’s hand, he recognized her. He knew.(Park)

That feeling she used to have when she was sitting next to Park on the bus—that feeling that she was on base, that she was safe for the moment—she could summon it now. Like a force field. Like she was the Invisible Girl.(Eleanor)

The story of Eleanor's home and school life hit me harder than the romance, which was the center of the story. Eleanor has a really rough home life and I was really terrified for her. She had to keep strict schedule just so she could shower while her creepy, lurking stepdad was away. It was so sad how her mom was resigned to the situation. I think I started caring less about the love story because after the sweet build-up based on their common interests, the relationship became more about dramatic proclamations of love and awkward silences and arguments. The proclamations got really cloying towards the end! None of this is completely out of the ordinary for a first relationship, but the book loses some of its spark when the entire relationship become centered on conversations about the relationship and *~love~*. I would have liked more of the magic of the beginning sprinkled throughout. The constant mentions of Romeo and Juliet made me expect an end to be something a little bigger, so when I got to the end it felt anti-climatic and abrupt.

While ultimately this book is a first love story between two teens who find acceptance with each other, there are A LOT of serious issues crammed into this book: poverty, alcoholism, abuse, bullying, racism, masculinity and being biracial. It would have been nice to drop a few and explore some of them a little deeper. For instance Park's internalizing the media portrayals of Asians and "grass is always greener" attitude would have been interesting to explore, but I don't think he ever really came to terms with it. This book fell into some of the pitfalls of bringing up topics for background, but then providing enough details and supporting characters that the issues are brought them to the foreground, even though they were never meant to be a focus of the story.

(I am still working through my thoughts on this section, so it may make little to no sense!) I knew as soon as I finished reading that I would be able to find a lot of criticism of this book! Two of the most interesting articles I found are this post about problematic aspects and this defense of the book. There is a lot of casual racism in this book, mostly within context of the setting and the age group represented. The presence of racism did make the book feel more honest. These are high schoolers in a predominately white area, during a time not so long ago when it was much more difficult to get connected with the outside world. This 1986 version of Omaha isn't so different from my 1997 high school and I am assuming not completely different from now. Teenagers, and most adults to be completely honest, are still navigating the social landscape and pushing the limits of appropriateness. Zero filters!

It is really easy to side-eye some of Eleanor's thoughts about her "exotic" new boyfriend, though she did have enough awareness to keep her thoughts to herself most of the time! (“Park's eyes got wide. well, sort of wide. Sometimes she wondered if the shape of his eyes affected how he saw things. That was probably the most racist question of all time.”) I do remember how many of my friends would focus on the single most identifying physical characteristic of their crushes and first boyfriends. I think Eleanor's mentions of Park's Asianness should have reduced as their relationship grew, rather than staying at the every-other-paragraph level. This book was just a snapshot in time and I imagine as she matures, so will her thought processes. As far as the selective bullying, some kids manage to escape the more aggressive bullying and others bear the full brunt. For that reason I didn't find it weird that Park seemed to escape mostly with microaggressions, especially with his connection to the popular crowd. Eleanor's very noticeable presence took the heat off some of the other targets, as she became the sole focus of the bullies. Fresh meat is always more fun to bullies, for a while anyway!

Some of the characters did manage to hit almost every stereotypical note. I didn't think it came from a place of a cruelty or that it was insight into the author's psyche, but it seemed unnecessary Some of these issues seemed like they would so easy to avoid, just by having a a more diverse set of character traits for at least a few of the characters. It struck me as especially odd that Park's mom seemed to have completely abandoned most aspects of her culture. As a single book none of this might matter so much, but in context with other works it starts to create the single narrative that gets repeated over and over until it crosses over from anecdote to the single, unimpeachable picture of an entire diverse culture. (See Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The Danger of a Single Story. It is short and definitely worth the read or listen!). I'm nitpicking on this book a little (I think Rowell is drawing from her experience and observations with her own community), but I think it is worth at least thinking about in this specific framework.

As far as the end, I sort of hated it at first! As I thought about it and let it settle in, I got it. Eleanor really did need space to heal and it is unlikely that Park would have understood. I like the little bit of hope in the end and I am curious how these two character evolve. Rainbow Rowell did say she wasn't finished with these characters, so perhaps we will see!

This is definitely more than I ever expect I would have to say on this book and it obviously made me think about a wide range of issues! I will say that I am double the age of these characters and I probably would have loved this book in high school. If the first line of this review appeals to you or if you attended high school in the 80s, you'll appreciate this novel. It is a completely different story, but I'd like to mention Everything I Never Told You as a book that handles issues of race as part of a larger plot really well and I think it would appeal to YA readers. Anna Karenina remains my favorite portrayal of a couple falling in love (Levin's section, not Anna's :) ).

He tried again to remember what he’d thought the first time he saw her. He tried to remember how this had happened—how she went from someone he’d never met to the only one who mattered. (Park)

Ever since the first day they’d met, Eleanor was always seeing him in unexpected places. It was like their lives were overlapping lines, like they had their own gravity. Usually, that serendipity felt like the nicest thing the universe had ever done for her. (Eleanor) ( )
  tbritny | Jul 22, 2015 |

I think the reason I love it so much is that I can really relate to Eleanor. Not the family aspect, but the self-image, personality traits and the like. I see why she is the way she is and I totally understand. Park? Oh geeze. He was wonderful. This book just makes me..ugh.. no words! Loved it! ( )
  MermaidxLibrarian | Jul 16, 2015 |
A sweet story! ( )
  keafrost | Jul 15, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 284 (next | show all)
I have never seen anything quite like “Eleanor & Park.” Rainbow Rowell’s first novel for young adults is a beautiful, haunting love story — but I have seen those. It’s set in 1986, and God knows I’ve seen that. There’s bullying, sibling rivalry, salvation through music and comics, a monstrous stepparent — and I know, we’ve seen all this stuff. But you’ve never seen “Eleanor & Park.” Its observational precision and richness make for very special reading.
added by melmore | editNew York Times, John Green (Mar 8, 2013)

» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Rainbow Rowellprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gorovoy, AnnaDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Grlic, OlgaCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Russell, HarrietCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Forest, Jade, Haven, and Jerry - and everyone else in the back of the truck
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He'd stopped trying to bring her back.
He loved how much they loved each other. It was the thing he thought about when he woke up scared in the middle of the night. Not that they loved him -- they were his parents, they had to love him. That they loved each other. They didn't have to do that.
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"Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits--smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try"--

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