Although I read a lot of YA books, I mainly read them for fun. I love the light-heartedness and simple realism that often comes with them. Of course, a lot of them can end in devastating circumstances but the main characters are always stronger and more mature after their journey of self-discovery. I went into Eleanor And Park expecting something like this. I knew nothing about the story or characters before going into it and I think this might be why it had such a big effect on me.
Set in 1986 in Nebraska, it follows Eleanor, a large teenage girl with long red hair and questionable fashion sense and Park, a half Korean half white boy who tries his hardest not to draw attention to himself. Eleanor comes from tough home life where there is little money and an overcrowded house. Park lives a pleasant family life with his parents and brother but struggles to please his father. The story of their meeting on the school bus and falling in love is a simple but beautiful one that is told through both their perspectives alternately. Both are misfits who feel pushed out by the world but who bond over a love of comic books and music.
Littered with plenty of 80s pop culture references, the story spans one school year as Eleanor the new girl befriends the loner Park and the two embark on a beautiful romantic adventure that comes to a head at a heartbreaking crash of an ending. In fact, I was so taken aback by the ending that I had to read the last couple of chapters more than once to check that I’d understood correctly. As you race towards the end, the book suddenly becomes so much darker before dropping you from a great height. I guarantee you’ll be left with a whole multitude of feelings on turning the last page.
Through the dual perspectives, we get to know both main characters extremely well. As such, when they finally come together, it’s almost as if you’re witnessing two friends begin a romance. It’s a slow-burning love but one that is undoubtedly realistic and captivating to watch. Of course, so many books and films aimed at teens centre around misfits but they tend to have a romanticised view of love. Rowell is brilliant at depicting first love in a way that is so true to life. Young readers who aspire to have a relationship like this are not harbouring fantasies but gaining an insight into their possible future.
One thing that sets Eleanor And Park apart from a lot of YA novels is the beautiful but tragic fact that both parties are mature enough to know that first love probably isn’t going to last forever. They’re very aware of the fact their relationship could well be doomed from the start but they love each other enough to try anyway. This is a wonderful sentiment to come away with and could well be why Eleanor And Park will resonate with me for a long time.