Thursday, November 21, 2013

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

I received an ARC of Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park last winter, but my sister ended up reading it months before I did. I didn’t get to it until about a month ago, when I started seeing Rowell’s newest publication Fangirl, out in stores. It was like a reminder to get to the other one, the one I already had, as my sister had been telling me how good Eleanor and Park is since she read it.

Eleanor and Park bounces back and forth between the perspectives of the main characters, tenth graders Eleanor and Park. Set in the mid-1980s in Nebraska, the two share a seat on the bus together and are inextricably tied together from that moment on. Eleanor is new to town. She lives with her mother, her mother’s new husband, and her younger siblings in a small house. Her home life is on shaky ground. She hasn’t seen her family in almost a year, since her now stepfather kicked her out of their old house and wouldn’t let her move back in until now. Park lives with his Korean mother, American father, and younger brother Josh, where he reads comic books and listens to music on his Walkman.

Their love story is a quiet, slow meandering through their grade ten year, where cool and nerdy Park falls for incredibly unique Eleanor on their bus rides to and from school. The development is so incredibly lovely, and punctuated by their sharing of everything that they love, especially comics and music. Before the two begin talking to one another, Eleanor reads issues of Watchman over Park’s shoulder, and he turns the pages slowly knowing that she is following along with him.

The heartbreak and frustration of being a teenager is so wonderfully written. Eleanor’s own self-consciousness about her appearance is detailed carefully through the book, her anxiety about her out of control curly red hair and her weight. When she meets Park’s tiny mother, she notes,

“When Eleanor was around girls like that – like Park’s mom, like Tina, like most of the girls in the neighborhood – she wondered where they put their organs. Like, how could you have a stomach and intestines and kidneys, and still wear such tiny jeans? Eleanor knew that she was fat, but she didn’t feel that fat. She could feel her bones and muscles just underneath all the chub, and they were big, too. Park’s mom could wear Eleanor’s rib cage like a roomy vest.”

Eleanor and Park is an excellent teenage romance, and I’m looking forward to picking up Fangirl soon, and Rowell’s adult novel Attachments.

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