So, I’ve read a lot of great reviews for this one. To top off the good reviews is this blurb from the back, “Eleanor & Park reminded me not just of what it’s like to be young and in love with a girl, but also what it’s like to be young and in love with a book” from John Green! As soon as my library got this one in, I picked it up.
I wasn’t exactly sure what I was expecting. I wasn’t expecting this one to be as dark as it was. It’s a fantastic first love story. I had no idea how intense and sad Eleanor’s situation was going to be (this was not in the description I read). Eleanor’s situation though made her come off as so much more strong.
Any way, it’s about Park and Eleanor. Park isn’t popular, but he isn’t picked on at school either. In fact, in the beginning, he mentions working his hardest to not have the people in his town pick on him for being different. He’s half Korean and the whole world seems to refer to him as Chinese. He goes against all his self made rules about sticking out too much (granted he always wears black –usually punk rock t-shirts) when Eleanor gets on his bus one morning. There are no available seats left because all the kids picked their designated bus seats in the beginning of the school year.
It’s not exactly love at first site for Park. When he first sees her, all he sees are the ways the other kids will make fun of her: crazy, untamed red curls, really strange clothing, and a slightly chubby face. She definitely stands out from everyone else. He lets her sit in his seat even though he knows he might get picked on for it. Eleanor isn’t sure if Park is nice or if he’s being nice or if he’s actually as bad as the others because he’s not exactly friendly when he lets her sit down.
And poor Eleanor is not exactly welcomed at school either. She’s used to it though because she’s not exactly welcome at home (literally). Her mother and her new husband kicked her out of their house for a whole year. Eleanor was literally dropped off at her neighbor’s and left there until her mom came back for her a year later. Her mother’s new husband is abusive (to his wife), always drinking, and always saying crewel things to Eleanor and her many younger siblings.
Park isn’t ever really wanting for things economically. He always has food, clothes, and what he needs (unlike Eleanor who resorts to stealing toothbrushes from her biological dad). He doesn’t think too highly of himself because he’s short and doesn’t fit in well. He also has a hard relationship with his dad who doesn’t understand his interests.
After a few shared comic books on the bus, Park and Eleanor become friends. (Ah, the power of Watchmen!) Park helps Eleanor feel special and cared for. And Eleanor helps Park feel brave enough to be who he really is. Their friendship becomes more and the two go through all the awkward firsts: first kisses, first hand-holding, first introduction to the parents (Parks’ parents because Eleanor has to hide her relationship from hers), first fights, etc. But as the two become closer and closer, more and more problems arise with Eleanor’s home life.
And there’s the sad-ish prologue in the beginning that made it sound like the two weren’t going to make it…so it was hard for me to keep reading when things were getting really tough. However, I’m glad that I pretty much read this in one sitting and didn’t stop. Because the hard stuff made these two characters come off as even more authentic and believable.
There’s a lot of interesting topics covered in this one: gender discrimination, abuse, alcohol abuse, poverty, bullying, and love. The romance aspect gives things just enough fluffiness to keep this as a book that can easily be read in one sitting, despite the hard bits. The dialog and humor exchanged between the two main characters is my favorite element! The way they speak to each other, or didn’t speak was so spot-on. The other thing that was so spot-on was the lack of places to go!
I definitely remember having a lack of places to hang out as a teen. And with Eleanor’s home never being an option, their hangout locations were even more limited. And what teen wants to hang out with their crush in front of mom and dad anyway? I also loved Parks’ relationship with his parents. It wasn’t easy for him either. And while Eleanor’s situation was definitely the most awful, I felt so much empathy for Park when his father refused to speak him.
I also loved how the characters Rowell wrote were never just black or white. The mean girl, Tina, actually turns out to be not that bad. And while Parks’ dad does not seem the most accepting of particular life choices, he genuinely cares for Park and is so helpful at the end. Unfortunately, Eleanor’s parents were always pretty terrible. But, I guess not everyone can have really redeeming qualities.
This book is loaded with great dialog, wonderful characters, an epic love story, and some seriously tough subjects. I loved it. I give it a 10/10. And I definitely recommend this one to fans of Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry.