Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park - Rainbow Rowell The year is 1986, and Eleanor is the new girl at school. Her clothes are too odd, her hair is too red, and she's too chubby, making her the perfect target for all of the "popular" kids. Her living situation is less than ideal: her family doesn't have much money and her stepdad is certainly not the easiest to live with.

Park doesn't really fit in either, due to the fact that he's half-Korean in a mostly white school. He's friends with a few of the popular kids, but mostly keeps to himself. The son of a Korean war bride and a US military veteran, Park's life is nearly perfect. He wants for nothing, and his biggest problem is being berated by his father for not being able to drive stick.

Their worlds couldn't have been more different, which is shown time and time again after their paths intersect. When Eleanor first steps on the school bus, the only available seat is next to a less than welcoming Park. As time goes on, he gives her a comic book to borrow after she's caught reading it over his shoulder, which leads to him making mix tapes and bringing comics just for her. It doesn't take long for them to move from unwilling bus buddies to acquaintances to friends, and the move from friendship to something more is absolutely adorable.

Their relationship is slow to build, and Rainbow Rowell perfectly captures the feelings involved: the tentative first moves, the initial awkwardness, the feeling of discovery, the desperation, the challenges and misunderstandings, the desire to know everything about each other, and the intense, all-consuming nature of first love. And, boy, can she write a hand holding scene:

Eleanor

He wound the scarf between his fingers until her hand was hanging in the space between them.
Then he slid the silk and his fingers into her open palm.
And Eleanor disintegrated.

Park

Holding Eleanor's hand was like holding a butterfly. Or a heartbeat. Like holding something complete, and completely alive.
As soon as he touched her, he wondered how he'd gone this long without doing it. He rubbed his thumb through her palm and up her fingers and was aware of her every breath.


Seeing this relationship from both Eleanor and Park's perspectives shows how falling in love with someone can transform you and help you discover your true self. Their voices were completely distinct, fleshed out, and complemented each other perfectly.

Of course, their relationship doesn't just contain sweet moments; it's set in the real world, where bad things happen to good people and relationships face their fair share of challenges. As they fall head over heels for one another, Eleanor's situation at home becomes even more dire, raising the question of whether or not your first love can truly last. Even though I had a feeling that things were going to come crashing down, that ending completely broke my heart. I don't think that a happily ever after would have worked with the story though, since it would be rather unrealistic given the circumstances; after all, falling in love doesn't solve all of your problems, and life isn't always fair. I do like to think that Eleanor and Park get together eventually, since the ending did leave room for a hopeful future.

Overall, Eleanor & Park is a thoroughly enjoyable story about that beautiful moment when you first fall in love. This book has found its way into my heart, and is sure to stay there for years to come.

This review can also be found at The In-Between Place.