Book Review: Eleanor & Park

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4 out of 5 stars

Format: Library Hardback - YA romance - Goodreads Summary:

"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...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."

*** MODERATE SPOILERS AHEAD ***

i had big expectations coming into this story. I'd seen it on the Barnes & Noble shelf many times walking past, and I always wanted to pick it up. Fast-forward six months later when my library finally had a copy available! Yay me! So I had lots of hype and stuff coming into this. It was NOT at all what I expected, but I wasn't the least bit disappointed. I've never read Rainbow Rowell before (I know, I know) so I'm not super familiar with her style of storytelling, but I loved this book!

The "romance" was atypical and more like coming-of-age with some kissing. It wasn't a sappy love story complete with dramatic break-up and a prom party scene at the end. But it was about a lot of firsts. This is a great example of one of those YA books that's a good read for anyone. I spent a lot of pages thinking back to my high school days and all the wonderful awkwardness that was love at sixteen years old. 

You think that holding someone hard will bring them closer. You think that you can hold them so hard that you’ll still feel them, embossed on you, when you pull away.
— Eleanor & Park

I honestly don't think I was emotionally ready to read this book- I was all set for a typical high school, 16 Candles kinda thing (see description of sappy love story above). Instead it was a slow-paced, growing up in 1986 high school kinda story. Two nerdy misfits fall in love. Sort of. And it all goes to hell when teenagers are caught, as they often are, in someone else's crossfire. Much of this book and the character's backstories made me mad. The adults in their lives were just complete garbage, which set up this interesting idea of privilege and how you can't always choose your path ESPECIALLY when you're sixteen.

Park comes from a nice, middle-class family and he's half Asian. I didn't think the book addressed this nearly enough. There was still lots of racial tension in America at that time (jeez, when is there not??) and Park admitted to being the only Asian kid in Nebraska and pretty much a comic book geek who does taekwando so... I feel like he would've gotten picked on more than he did. 

Eleanor is a frizzy red-headed girl who comes from an extremely poor family (not even a door on the bathroom), and a house where an abusive stepdad and battered mom don't give two shits about her. You could've written books on just their backstories alone! So amid all of that mess, Eleanor and Park find each other, only to have their love story pulled apart by the so-called grown ups in their lives. It just sucks.

If you're going for a teen romance with a happy ending, skip this book. But if you want raw emotion and a story that speaks the truth about first loves, fractured families, and why the world isn't fair, then you can't find a better one. It's an easy read, meaning you'll flip pages quickly, but it has grit, so guard your heart!