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October 2014

Eleanor & Park (Rainbow Rowell)

To say Eleanor and Park is just a love story, or a book on teenage romance, is to do it a gross disservice.  Eleanor and Park doesn’t just narrate first love, it takes you right back there again.  To read it is to feel the all-consuming glory of a first love; the detail and nuance of getting to know another person and to think about them constantly, the shock of discovering the way they can make you feel, the sheer bliss associated with these discoveries and the strange and exhilarating feeling of emotions that you never fathomed could exist.  Quite simply, this book beautifully and vividly narrates what it is like to fall utterly and completely in love for the first time.

Eleanor is new to town and as a red-headed, freckled misfit with her own eccentric style, she knows fitting in will be tough.  Park is half Korean and half American, keeps his head low, listens to punk music and generally does his best to stay under the radar.  Alternately narrated by each, Eleanor and Park first meet on the school bus when Eleanor immediately becomes the object of derision in her self-conscious and fumbling attempts to claim a seat.  In a flash of pity and annoyance, Park offers the seat next to him, and so begins their slow courtship through silence, comic books, mix tapes and finally, conversation and love.

However the path of true love never does (of course) run smooth.  Eleanor has recently returned to her mother and stepfather; a situation that is far from domestic idyll.  When this is compared to Park’s parents who are deeply in love (and not afraid to show it), the path of Eleanor and Park’s romance is contrasted against their home lives, and the perceptions that each bring based on their understanding of love and intimacy from their families.

It is not the story itself which makes Eleanor and Park so memorable, it’s the ability Rowell has to truly immerse you in the small, but momentous scenes of first love that the book describes.  The ability to create the feeling that comes with discovering first love using such simple and evocative language, reminds the reader why so much of our literature is dedicated to the topic.  If you want to fall in love again, I would suggest you start by falling in love with this book.

Rowell, R 2013, Eleanor & Park, Orion Publishing Co., London.
Young Adult - Romance

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