Those who pass up this book because it looks like it was written for fourteen-year-olds are really missing out. I first heard about Eleanor and Park from my mother, who told me I absolutely had to read it. My mom typically reads books about women struggling to survive in East Asia or queens getting their heads cut off, so it was a strange recommendation coming from her. I went for it.
Eleanor and Park is the story of two teens in Omaha, Nebraska in 1986. Park is 5’4″, half-Korean, into punk music and black t-shirts, and doing his best to maintain just enough popularity in order to avoid being the weird kid. Eleanor is a big (she says fat) redheaded girl who dresses in eccentric clothes and is impossible not to notice, despite the fact that all she wants is to be invisible. When Eleanor sits next to Park on the bus on the way to school, Park is sure she’s ruined his stint of popularity for him. Over the course of a school year, Park and Eleanor slowly fall in love despite all the things holding them back. Eleanor and Park is a fantastic story of first love, how awkward it can be, and how it takes every last breath out of you.
Eleanor and Park is not a particularly fast read. I read it slowly and carefully, not wanting to miss a single detail. I’m a sucker for love stories, and this one captured me immediately. I felt like the characters were genuine and ridiculous – what most teenagers in love typically are. It was witty and cheesy and fun. It was awkward. It was everything you would expect a novel about two in-love teenagers in Nebraska would be. I also think it’s the best of Rainbow Rowell’s books, because there’s also a level of seriousness to the entire thing. People tend to dismiss high school romances, but Rowell does a fantastic job of presenting it as the most important thing that has ever happened to Eleanor and Park. It wasn’t something fleeting, it was forever.
Overall, I’d definitely recommend this book before any of Rainbow Rowell’s others. Fangirl and Attachments are both good in their own right, but in my opinion are fast reads and make no lasting impressions. Eleanor and Park is good for those who want to branch out into reading YA Fiction but don’t want to feel like they’re reading a book written for kids. It’s good for someone who wants to read a book about love and romance with an added layer of innocence.