Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

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This book was my first Rainbow experience, and I couldn’t have picked a better novel to start with. Needless to say, I bought the rest of her novels within the week. I have faith that they won’t disappoint if Eleanor & Park is any indication of what else Rainbow has to offer.

This book tackles some very important subjects that most YA authors try to avoid for fear of scaring off readers. The action that moves this storyline along revolves around family abuse and bullying, not the romance between Park and Eleanor; their relationship is the result.

Eleanor is the eldest child of five, living with her mother and abusive step-father, Richie. She wears old clothes that have been patched and are too big for her, and her hair is constantly a mess with ribbons. The children share one bedroom, and the single bathroom has the door removed because Richie wants to deny them privacy. Richie is always drunk, and he’s mentally and physically abusive to Eleanor’s mother. It’s no wonder the kids live in terror. Although she keeps her family life a secret, it’s hard for Eleanor to avoid the students who bully her due to her appearance.

Park comes from a very loving family, although he sometimes feels inadequate with his short, slight frame in comparison to his tall and muscular younger brother and father. He doesn’t want to be a ‘masculine man’, but rather enjoys spending time reading comics and listening to alternative music. He’s popular and he wants for nothing, sometimes taking for granted what he has. Park hates being a disappointment to his family, just as Eleanor hates being a disappointment in her own way.

These two live such opposite lives, and yet they couldn’t be more perfect for each other. Eleanor teaches Park to appreciate the advantages he has, even for something as small as a toothbrush, a telephone, or batteries. When Park gives her his music player and some batteries so she could listen to music at home, my heart melted. And the way she took such care of his comic books was so sweet, knowing that she had very few possessions of her own which made her want to treasure and protect Park’s with her life.

The bus was the location for their blossoming romance, making me sort of regret not taking it to school every day. What if my Park was waiting for me to slide into the seat beside him?! I missed my chance… live and learn.
ANYWAY…
I found the chapters that took place on the bus to be the most compelling. Very little physical action occurred, but it was where they opened up to one another. They learned to accept each others flaws and differences, making it easier for them to see the wonderful and genuine person sitting beside them.

I found their physical connection endearing. They barely touched because they felt uncomfortable with each other and themselves, and yet whenever their hands brushed their skin would tingle and their hearts would skip a beat. It reminded me of what first love really feels like. Growing up I’ve read too many YA novels where the couple begins touching and sucking face far too intensely and early. The first time they touch, they’re already all over each other like they’ve been doing this for weeks. But in reality (at least from my own experience and the accounts of friends and school mates) it usually takes you longer to get comfortable with sharing yourself with another human being, even for something as simple as holding hands. IT’S A BIG DEAL. First love is supposed to be messy and awkward, so I couldn’t have felt more connected to a couple than I did with Eleanor and Park. It brought up a lot of old feelings and memories. I even dared to message the first guy I experienced these things with to see how he’s doing. Like Park, who contacts Eleanor at the end of the novel, I just wanted to make sure he was alright and happy. For all those curious, I was happy to hear that he was doing very well.

I also enjoy the fact that Rainbow ended this book in a way that was only partially happy, because the readers (and even the characters) are meant to realize that life doesn’t always have a happily ever after. Sometimes we have to sacrifice certain things to obtain what we want, or in Eleanor’s case, what she needs.
Don’t read the following to avoid spoilers!
The fact that she needs to leave home for her safety is apparent, and yet our hearts break because this means she can’t be with Park any longer. She makes a great sacrifice, and Park does the same. He wants her to be safe, so he puts all selfish desires aside and helps her get to her uncle. It’s sad to see their relationship end, but you’re happy that they at least got the chance to meet and be together (if only for a while).

Spoilers over! You can continue here.

I’m glad to have had the pleasure of reading this book, and I can’t wait to pick up Rainbow’s other novels. I hope this book takes you back to the joys and heartache of your first love. It’s truly a YA novel to remember. Book Babies should have no problem falling in love with Eleanor & Park.

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