Emily's Book Review: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
Park is just a shy Asian kid with earphones on and a lap full of comic books, trying to avoid conversation with his violent classmates, when new-girl Eleanor shows up on his bus. With massive, curly, red hair,a man’s plaid shirt, and dozens of scarves and bracelets, she is a sure target for those around her, and before he knows what he is doing, Park angrily asks her to sit down. It is weeks before the two speak again, and as they ride in silence to and from school, the book shifts between their points of view. Readers soon learn that Eleanor doesn’t dress in ragged clothes for attention—she dresses that way because she doesn’t have a choice. Her stepfather Richie kicked her out a year ago, and she has just been allowed to return home. Richie drinks away the family’s money and keeps Eleanor, her four younger siblings, and her mother in a constant state of trepidation. Eleanor stays about as nervous at school, where she soon gains the nickname “Big Red” and ends up with maxi pads taped to her gym locker. Too afraid to have her head down on the bus, she never brings any reading material of her own but soon starts reading Park’s comics. He begins silently sharing them with her, first giving her reading material, then music, then batteries so she’ll have a way to listen at home. Then, one day he finds himself holding her hand. After weeks of silence, Eleanor and Park are the least likely couple at their school in 1986 Omaha, and between their classmates and Eleanor’s stepfather, they seem doomed from the start.
I loved this book. It’s rare to find a book that is so cute and so sad and so real and just a little bit edgy all at the same time. I’ve also read Attachments, Rainbow Rowell’s debut novel for adults, and I was excited when I found out she had a young-adult book coming out. Rowell writes just as well from Park’s point of view as she does from Eleanor’s, and both of them are well-rounded and well-developed. Eleanor is odd, but she isn’t a caricature, and while Park is a fairly ordinary teen boy from a stable family,we see that his family life is imperfect as well. Fans of well-written realistic fiction will enjoy this book, and I can see it particularly appealing to those who are into the music references in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I would recommend it more to older teens, since the language is a bit strong at times, but this book would be great for high-school aged teens and nostalgic adults. Rowell is definitely an author to watch for fans of realistic fiction,and I hope that she continues to write for the young-adult world.