Eleanor & Park
by Rainbow Rowell
High School St. Martin’s Griffin 328 pp.
2/13 978-1-250-01257-9 $18.99
e-book ed. 978-1-250-03121-1 $9.99
It’s the start of a new school year in 1986 Omaha when sophomores Eleanor and Park meet for the first time on the bus. They are an unusual pair: she’s the new girl in town, an ostracized, bullied “big girl” with bright red curly hair, freckles, and an odd wardrobe; he’s a skinny half-Korean townie who mostly wears black and tries to stay out of the spotlight. But as they sit together on the school bus every day, an intimacy gradually develops between them. At first they don’t talk; then she reads his comics with him; he makes her mixtapes of his favorite rock bands; they hold hands; and eventually they are looking for ways to spend every waking hour together. Their slowly evolving but intense relationship is chaste first love, authentic in its awkwardness — full of insecurities, miscommunications, and sexual awakenings — and life-changing for them both. When Eleanor’s unstable home life (replete with abusive stepfather) ultimately tears the young lovers apart, the novel ends realistically: uncertain, yet still hopeful. Rowell presents her teen protagonists’ intelligent observations, extreme inner desires, and irrational feelings through compelling alternating narrations. She imbues the novel with rich character development, a spot-on depiction of the 1980s, and powerful descriptive passages (“Holding Eleanor’s hand was like holding a butterfly. Or a heartbeat. Like holding something complete, and completely alive”). It’s an honest, heart-wrenching portrayal of imperfect but unforgettable love.
From the May/June 2013 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.