Book Review: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Since I’ve already gushed about FangirlI decided to further gush about Rainbow Rowell and her other wonderful book, Eleanor & Park (which I actually read first.) I have a confession to make: I am a HUGE fan of the Young Adult genre. Many scoff at it, assuming the stories will lack depth, but I usually find the exact opposite is true. There’s something about the teen years that is so nostalgic and universal, and there is something about YA that allows you to hearken back to when you felt serious feelings for the first time yourself. For me, reading YA books is like retracing steps, allowing me to determine where I went wrong and where I went right and what left a mark and why. Let’s be honest, teenagers can be moody and intense and overly dramatic, but it is the period that sets up your character for the rest of your life. Childhood is a time when you are innocent and cannot fully comprehend heavy feelings. But as a teen, your experiences are the memories you will carry, and every single relationship, whether it’s with your parents or friends or nemesis or bully or first crush or first love, will set a precedent for every similar relationship that follows. And as always, I’m a sucker for a love story, particularly first love stories. If you too are a fan of any of the above, I cannot recommend Eleanor & Park highly enough.

Eleanor is the new girl at school who stands out, and not in a good way. She has wild red hair that quickly earns her the nickname “Big Red,” reflecting both her hair and her size. Her home life is a mess, and just when she resigns herself to misery and hopelessness, she meets Park. Park is a half-Korean boy whose interest include good music, comic books and keeping his head down. He is the only person to begrudgingly offer her a permanent seat next to him on the bus and their relationship slowly shifts from strangers to silent comic book readers to friends to more than friends. They are misfits who discover that they fit together perfectly. And the love they share is intense and sweet and almost enough to combat life getting in the way.

I won’t spoil the ending, but I will let you know that this book rendered me a weeping mess before and after it was over. As I said above, fiction has a way of reaching into the recesses of my mind and pulling out memories and feelings that have been long dormant. Reading Eleanor’s perspective was like reading my own thoughts from when I first met my husband, when for the first time in my life, everything was so wonderful that it felt surreal and I was certain it couldn’t last. I’m always somewhat envious of anyone who can experience something good and just enjoy it wholeheartedly, without fear or disbelief or a general sense of gloom. Love doesn’t always seem like a tangible thing. And when you haven’t been exposed to love that is healthy and happy and good, it can be nearly impossible to accept it when it’s yours for the taking.

This book is beautiful and funny and heartbreaking. I want a sequel. I NEED a sequel. And I can’t wait to read it again.

Favorite quotes:

“The first time he’d held her hand, it felt so good that it crowded out all the bad things. It felt better than anything had ever hurt.”

“Eleanor was right. She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.”

“His parents never talked about how they met, but when Park was younger, he used to try to imagine it. He loved how much they loved each other It was the thing he thought about when he woke up scared in the middle of the night. Not that they love him-they were his parents, they had to love him. That they loved each other. They didn’t have to do that.”

And this one. This one got me:

“Thank God she couldn’t make her mouth work right now, because if she could, there’d be no end to the melodramatic garbage she’d say to him. She was pretty sure she’d thank him for saving her life. Not just yesterday, but, like, practically every day since they’d met. Which make her feel like the dumbest, weakest girl. If you couldn’t save your own life, was it even worth saving?

There’s no such thing as handsome princes, she told herself.

There’s no such thing as happily ever after.

She looked up at Park. Into his golden green eyes. You saved my life, she tried to tell him. Not forever, not for good. Probably just temporarily. But you saved my life, and now, I’m yours. The me that’s me right now is yours. Always.”

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