Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Length: 336 pages
Two misfits.One extraordinary love.
Eleanor... Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough...Park... He knows she'll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punch line. There's a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises....
Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.
So this will be my second time reading Eleanor & Park and I did so because I needed something lighthearted and fluffy to get me out of the reading slump caused by The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. Clearly that suggests that I love this book. However, when in discussion on Twitter with George (@TheGeorgeLester - go and check him out, he's awesome), I aired my feelings about the ending of this novel and how I loved everything about the plot until the end. I've discussed this with many friends and I always just came to the conclusion that the ending was predictable and anticlimactic in my opinion. However, under George's recommendation of re-reading it, I decided to give it a second shot to see if my opinions had changed. Im delighted to say that George was right, as usual and that my opinion on the ending has changed ever so slightly. I still have a few issues but they're minor, but we'll get into those later. For now I'm going to treat this review as if it's a new read to me. So, what did I think of Eleanor & Park?
Now part of me wants to say that this is your typical teenage love story. Boy meets girl, boy falls in love and they live happily ever after. This is not necessarily the case with Eleanor & Park. We do follow some of the popular tropes associated with a YA contemporary romance but there are special features in this story that really make it stand out from the crowd. Perhaps it's Rainbow Rowell's lyrical writing style, or the way she builds up her characters, but everything just seemed to gel really well together. It's difficult to talk about the plot mainly without just giving you a synopsis because realistically this is a very character driven novel, and while it does take place over a whole school year, you feel that you don't actually spend that much time concentrating on the plot.
I loved that while the main focus of the story was the development of this pair's adorable relationship, there was also the issues highlighted in the background that they were different, they were outsiders and I loved how Rainbow Rowell not only focused on that individuality aspect, but that she developed it with confidence and ease. What made this book wholly realistic for me was that nobody was completely perfect in this book - each character had their own imperfection and I loved that.
Now the bit I need to discuss primarily is the ending to this book, because as I mentioned earlier when I first read this back in 2012, I really disliked how Rainbow chose to end it. Was it just my feelings over E&P's heartbreak ending? Perhaps, but I think it was also that although I found it predictable and anticlimactic, I think Eleanor could have handled the situation better. Now don't get me wrong, before you all come at me with pitchforks. I'm not referring to her running away necessarily because she did need to be out of that scenario, but there never seemed to be much concern for her other siblings, or her mother. After all she was leaving them with the jerk of a stepfather - so was it a selfish act and could it have been handled differently? Perhaps. In reflection I see that the impact this could have had was perhaps eased by the fact that Eleanor's family had handled themselves before when she was kicked out of the house all those years ago.
So as I said before this is a very character driven novel and a lot of the choices that are made are centered around different characters. For example; the ending is the major plot twist at the end that is centred around the actions of one character, Eleanor's step father. Taking a look then at our main protagonists Eleanor and Park. Eleanor's character is very stubborn in her persona. She has fought for where she is and she lives in a situation she cannot change. Within her character is a grounded individual who's past hasn't allowed her to indulge in her pleasures, she's always had others to think about and look after, so when someone offer's her a chance at happiness it's clear to see why she's hesitant. Park on the other hand has the opportunities to live as ordinary a life as he can get, but chooses to be individual. Why follow the traits of the crowd when you can be who you want to be. A lot of this instinct comes from how he was treat during his childhood. Park grew up with a father who forced him to do taekwondo since he was small and constantly ridicules his attempts at driving. Park quite often questions whether his father actually loves him as he doesn't fit in with his sporty brother - something I'm such all siblings can relate with at some point in their life. Your life and family may be perfect but can you seriously admit theres never been one moment in your life where you've felt inadequate or compared to your peers/siblings?
Parents in this novel are so important, just as they are an integral part of a teenagers life. A lot of your choices growing up would have been either decided for you, or were influenced by your parents. In this novel both Eleanor and Park's parents were developed as their own main characters as they played just as an important role as our two leads did. It was also nice to see that they were written extremely realistically - Eleanor's mother showing how fragile and scared she was around a very controlling and abusive husband. This is something I really admired in this novel - the focus on domestic violence in families. It was brutal and raw but it got the message out. Park's parents were equally as complex, and it was nice to see the engagement with their son as he developed who he wanted to be - it was honest to see that at first there was confusion over his lifestyle choices but then showed acceptance and support. I don't really think you can get more realistic than that in the modern age.
Overall I think it's very clear to see that this is a novel with extremely powerful messages about domestic abuse, child abuse, racism, bullying and body image and that it tackles them with relevant support. Previously when reviewing Eleanor & Park I only gave this book a 3 stars, but after re-reading it and noticing that especially with the ending, that earlier signs indicate just how important Rainbow Rowell's decision was to conclude the novel in that way. In reflection I think this novel spoke more to me the second time around, so I urge you to reconsider it if like me you were questioning it's motives. Also, I just want to briefly comment on the use of non-sexual intimacy because I wasn't sure exactly where to slot it in, but it's an important comment to make. The relationship was refreshing and showed the intimacy for what it really was, without the need for the sexual connotations that have plagued a lot of YA contemporaries as of late. Anyway, this book was adorable, end of. I give Eleanor & Park a 4 out of 5 stars on my classification scale!