Hi everyone. Today I am excited to review Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. I have had this book recommended to me time and time again. It did not disappoint. While it was different than I expected, Eleanor and Park pulled me in and kept me hooked until the last page. I have been thinking about it and how to review it ever since.
I’m not a stereotypical romance reader. (I do not read hot and heavy romance novels.) But this is not a stereotypical romance. It is beautiful and honest and exposed. There are “love scenes” but those moments when they kiss or embrace each other do not go too far. However, they do show the passion and the longing of first love.
A few initial thoughts:
- No one writes quite like Rainbow Rowell. The way she creates stories and details is truly incredible.
- I was surprised that this book chronicled both a love story and also some very serious problems. Not everyone can create a story with such opposing experiences side by side, but Rowell does it well.
- This is a book that could never be as good as a movie adaptation. So much of the story relies on the way it is written.
- I must admit that I was disappointed by the ending (more on this later). And I could do with less swearing.
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell is a love story, a misfit love story. It follows the relationship of two high schools who start as strangers who sit next to each other on the school bus. But as time progresses, they begin talking and falling in love. They connect over music, comic books, and an inexpiable passion for each other. As the novel continues, we get more details about their relationship, their family lives, and the incessant nature of time.
I have never read a book written like Eleanor and Park. Rainbow Rowell creates a story in such unique ways. Her writing style takes a common situation in a fairly common place and shows it to her readers in new ways. I was blown away by the simplicity and power of her language. Her descriptions were unlike any I’ve read–poignant, refreshing, and exact. The language set this book apart.
Park is my favorite of the two main characters because he is honest, loyal, and quirky. I love that he loans Eleanor his comic books and music. I love that he brings one to her house so she can read it with him. I love the way he defends Eleanor with a taekwondo kick. I love that he says “I love you” first. I love that he drives her to Minnesota, and that his parents let him. I love that he doesn’t talk about the end or a time after Eleanor. He lives completely in the present with her. While his family isn’t perfect, Park has parents who love each other, have good morals, and take care of their children. That is lucky. At first, it seems that Eleanor has all the problems to overcome. But as we get to know Park, we see that his life isn’t always easy. He doesn’t fit in. He isn’t always comfortable in his own skin. Until Eleanor.
Eleanor deserves better than the life she is forced into. I felt increasingly sorry for her as we learn about her dysfunctional family, abusive step father, and horribly tight finances. I love that she is given a chance to escape with Park, that she spends time with his family, and that she allows them to take care of her in a small way. Eleanor is also incredibly strong. And I love that she fights for a better life, if only in small ways. She lives in a horrible living situation with the seemingly inevitable possibility of being found out and kicked out or worse. Her love for Park gives her strength and power to endure. I just wish she could hold onto that love for a little longer and give it more of a chance.
Their relationship is unique and also ordinary. Unique because of who Park and Eleanor are but also ordinary because this is their first love–a love that blossoms in an unexpected way (I just adore the scenes on the bus when they discuss comics and music. And the later scenes when Park holds Eleanor’s hand for the first time. And the stolen kisses.) Overall, I would say their relationship is quite healthy, especially compared to Eleanor’s mother’s and father’s second marriages. They really love each other. Park loves Eleanor and wants to protect her. Eleanor loves Park and can find freedom with him. What is heartbreaking is the knowledge that first love often does not last. And from the first pages of the novel, I knew they would probably not end up together. But I wanted them to try. Oh, how I wanted them to try to make their first love last!
I really enjoyed the different perspectives in the novel. While there were two perspectives (Eleanor and Park), the novel reads like one perspective. It feels like a continuous story, which can be hard to achieve. I thought it was so clever how within a single chapter or scene we would get inside both of their heads. Even if it was only for a single sentence. I appreciated getting inside their heads and understanding why they said or did certain things. While Eleanor disappointed me at the end of the novel, I could recognize why she acted the way she did.
The ending broke my heart. From their middle of the night escape from town, to Park’s tears as he fell asleep in the car, to Eleanor never writing back, to their fizzling love. I wanted so badly for them to find a way to stay together. But I knew they couldn’t or they wouldn’t. I said I was disappointed by the ending, and I am. I think mostly because I wanted them to work harder to stay together. But Eleanor just let their love fade. And then the book just ends.
This is a story about an ordinary, extraordinary first love. In the end, it’s heartbreaking ending makes me love it all the more.
What did you think of Eleanor and Park?