Warning: If you haven’t read “Eleanor & Park” by Rainbow Rowell, do not read this review if you do not want spoilers. If you don’t mind spoilers or already read the book, feel free to read this!
I’m back with another book review, and this time I’m reviewing “Eleanor & Park” by Rainbow Rowell! Here’s a summary so we know what it’s about:
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…Eleanor.
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…Park.
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.”
Good news: The romance in this book is actually convincing and well-written.
Also good news/possibly bad news, depending on your preferences: It’s a long, ‘slow-burn’ type of romance.
Eleanor and Park don’t quite get together until about fifteen chapters into this book. It does give them time to get to know each other and establish their family lives and backgrounds, but at the same time it also was frustrating to the point that I just wanted them to get together already. The main plot of the entire book is their romance, which makes sense given that their relationship is the main focus of it, but we also get to see how their backgrounds influence how they think and how Eleanor and Park function with each other and independently.
The book makes the contrasts between Eleanor and Park very clear. While Eleanor has a horrendous home life with an abusive (and possibly sexual predator) stepfather, Park’s home life is decent apart from his dad telling him to be more manly. However, both do have a lot in common—they stick up for each other, support each other, and even bond over things like Star Wars and other ‘nerdy’ things of the time period (it should be noted that this book takes place in 1986).
One of the parts of the novel I found most interesting about Eleanor and Park’s relationship was when Eleanor cried after getting a makeover from Park’s mom. Eleanor doesn’t exactly wear the ‘girly’ clothes that other girls her age would wear during that time period, so it doesn’t feel like ‘her’ to be in that kind of makeup. As a way to comfort her, and also as a way to be himself in a sense, Park goes and wears makeup to school, despite his father’s objections to it because of how ‘feminine’ it would be for Park to wear it back then. Park doesn’t usually wear makeup, and he’s very aware at this point of the book that Eleanor isn’t one to wear makeup often either, and therefore wears the makeup to not just cheer her up but also to help her feel less ‘not-herself’ in a sense, that she’s not the only one going into this weird sense of being something or doing something that isn’t exactly her.
The plotline does speed up close to the end however, especially in the last few chapters. Finding out that Richie, Eleanor’s abusive stepfather, could very well be sexually preying on Eleanor was not great to hear, but thank goodness Park helped her get out of there before things could get worse.
The only complaint I have is that it feels like Eleanor doesn’t exactly give as major shows of support to Park as much as Park would give support to her. She gets jealous and upset over other girls having dated Park in the past, for instance, rather than brushing it off and understanding that it was all in the past. However, she does go and try to see him when he gets suspended after beating up a bully who made fun of her, so it’s not like she’s completely unsupportive of him, either. I just wish I’d seen more of her supporting him just as much as he supported her.
Overall, I would rate this book 4 out of 5 stars.