Rainbow Rowell writes books that make you remember what it is like to be young and in love. Set in the 1980s, Eleanor & Park explores that first, unexpected, sweet occurrence that convinces you that young love lasts forever.
Eleanor and Park are two 16 year olds, from very different worlds, who live right around the corner from each other. Eleanor is a tall, awkward redhead, the eldest in a family of five children. She wears ill-fitting clothes that look like they come from Goodwill (because they do), and lives with an abusive out of work stepfather and a mother who just doesn’t want to see what goes on. Eleanor is a realist.
Park is the eldest son of an American war vet and Korean immigrant, in a home filled with love and expectation. His father is tough on him, pushing him to succeed. His mom is loving and judgmental, but wants what is best for her family, always. Park also sees things the way they really are.
Yet somehow, by accident, the two discover each other, and find that their obvious differences cover some very important similarities. Eleanor discovers a kindness in Park she has never experienced before, a selflessness and love. Park finds a girl with a very hidden love of music and stories that she is not allowed to express at home, for fear of losing it. Her selflessness is directed at protecting her siblings from their reality.
There is darkness. Eleanor’s stepfather is the centre of her homelife; it is not until the final chapters that the reader can actually understand that it is not just hatred of the man who abuses her mother, but real fear for her own life that Eleanor lives with every day.
The ups and downs of the relationship as Eleanor and Park discover each other, and learn to handle the baggage that each family brings, is wonderful. Rowell has an amazing handle on the teen voice, and I can vividly see the characters in their settings as I read the story. In fact, I am sometimes convinced I went to school with all of them.
This is a great young romance, filled with hope and honesty.
It is appropriate for a more mature teen, as the language around the abuse can be quite graphic.
Eleanor & Park is published by St. Martin’s Press