Eleanor & Park

By Kirstin Buick
30 August 2013

Our book blogger has fallen in love with a young adult book about two teenagers falling in love in the ’80s but Eleanor & Park is about so much more.

The book: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (R139 paperback, R171 hardcover)

The rating: Four out of five stars

I wish I could climb into this hauntingly beautiful book and hug it. I wish I could unread this book so that I’m able to read it afresh again. I wish I could have been friends with the two main characters when I was at school. (I don’t however wish I were a teenager again – far too complicated.)

This young adult book about two teens falling in love in the ’80s is on my list of 2013’s best. It’s a love story but not a typical love story. It’s a happy story filled with so much sadness it’s really a sad story but it’s not. It’s a young adult book but it’s definitely not just for teens or those who were teens in the ’80s.

Teenagers Eleanor and Park meet in 1986 when big, redheaded, awkwardly dressed Eleanor gets on the bus to school after moving to Omaha, Nebraska, and has nowhere to sit. She’s a girl who’s always going to draw the attention of bullies everywhere. She ends up next to Park, a half-Korean, half-Irish boy who’s focused on just surviving high school and doesn’t want a loser drawing attention to him.

The story switches between Eleanor’s and Park’s point of view as she begins reading his comics over his shoulder and he lets her and starts waiting for a sign that he may turn the page. A connection is made as the 16-year-olds move from X-Men to Watchmen. They fall in love as he asks her about The Smiths lyrics written on her books only to discover she has never heard any of their music – she writes down songs she wants to hear one day. It’s the ’80s so he starts making her mixed tapes.

Then there’s the darkness of the story. Eleanor has moved back in with her mom and her abusive stepdad. She shares a room with all her young siblings and doesn’t own even a toothbrush or batteries for her Walkman to listen to the mix tapes Park has made. She’s bullied at school and finds happiness with Park. He has parents who love and care for him, who adore each other; a family who clearly live in a different world to Eleanor.

I love the line where Park is thinking, “Eleanor was right: She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.” It’s a line that sums up how different and wonderful this book is. And wait until you get to the ending which will send you to Twitter or Google to see what others think about it. I’ve already had three Twitter conversations with adults who also needed to discuss that ending.

PS: The author is Rainbow Rowell, and it’s her real name. And just when I thought I couldn’t love this book any more I saw the American cover (above left) with the headphones that form an ampersand linking the two characters pictured. How brilliant is that?

-  Natalie Cavernelis

Click here to buy the book.

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