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This story centers on two teenagers in the 80s, one half Korean boy who lives a fairly cushy life, and a slightly overweight girl living with her highly dysfunctional family in a small and run down home with little money. These two do not seem like the type to get along, but a gradual relationship develops between the two as they sit together on the bus each morning. There isn't a trace of insta-love in this novel and the relationship between Eleanor and Park develops very slowly but you savour each and every moment.
I think what's great about this book is that it isn't your typical high school romance. This isn't a story about "opposites attract", but rather the interesting development of a relationship between two very different characters that somehow complement each other. These characters are not perfect, they are flawed individually and as a couple; they argue lots and sometimes Eleanor/Park really annoyed me (REALLY annoyed me), but I liked this about Eleanor & Park because it made the characters seem more real and alive. This novel isn't sappy in the slightest, and if it is, then a character acknowledges the sappiness of the situation, which again, makes these characters seem real; they are definitely not characters living in a world of make believe. It is probably Eleanor's difficult home life which keeps this story grounded as she comes from a difficult background. She has a large family and is often picked on at school but her attitude towards these things seem more realistic as she is sometimes brave, but not always, she is sometimes selfish, but recognises this, though acknowledges that guilt doesn't make her feel any different. There is just something so raw and truthful about the everything that goes through these two teenagers mind.
What I found rather strange and hard to get my head around was the fact that this book was written in a dual narrative but in the third person. This was a fascinating way of getting right into Eleanor and Park's head, but also giving the reader enough distance so that there was an air of mystery around what each character was thinking at every second. It was especially fascinating reading the different POVs of these two characters as they are wildly different, and yet at one. You can see that there are vast differences in the way that these characters think and feel and it's sort of like the reader is keeping secrets for both Eleanor and Park which you cannot reveal to the other person. I was rather touched by this novel on a personal level even though I can't really relate to any of the content, simply because the narrative is so full of real emotions which seem truthful and heartfelt.
I have to say that I don't think I was quite as enamored by this book as the rest of it's readers. Sure, Eleanor & Park is a fantastic novel and it is awfully cute/heartbreaking but I wouldn't peg it as a five star read as many before me have. I think the thing that bothered me the most about this book is the lack of plot. Although this was a very nice snippet from the teenage years of Eleanor and Park, I felt that perhaps this snippet was directionless and didn't really have a plot that built up. I would say that this book simply follows the relationship of Eleanor and Park from the very beginning, but everything is a bit up in the air at the end, which may appeal to some, but for me it just seemed like the story was missing another chapter. I'd say that this story is much more about the thoughts and feelings of these two characters and not on any sort of event that happens in either one of their lives.
All in all, this a great novel, though perhaps a little more style than substance. The writing is superb and highly addictive so you will no doubt be drawn in and unable to put this book down; however, don't bother waiting for some sort of major event to 'happen' because it's not going to. That's probably the only downside to this book as it really is very well written and a pleasure to read.
About the book
Eleanor & Park is a young adult novel by Rainbow Rowell. The book was published by Orion on 12th April 2012 and the book is 336 pages long.
Synopsis (Taken from Goodreads.com)
Eleanor is the new girl in town, and she's never felt more alone. All mismatched clothes, mad red hair and chaotic home life, she couldn't stick out more if she tried.
Then she takes the seat on the bus next to Park. Quiet, careful and - in Eleanor's eyes - impossibly cool, Park's worked out that flying under the radar is the best way to get by.
Slowly, steadily, through late-night conversations and an ever-growing stack of mixed tapes, Eleanor and Park fall in love. They fall in love the way you do the first time, when you're 16, and you have nothing and everything to lose.
What I thought
I had not heard anything about this book before reading it so I knew absolutely nothing about it. All I knew was that it was a contemporary novel and I'm really into that genre of young adult at the minute.
Eleanor & Park is set in 1986, the year I was born. The story follows Eleanor who is nothing like the other girls who go to her school. She has the brightest red hair, is not super skinny and she also dresses more like a man than a girl. Having only recently moved to the area, she sticks out like a sore thumb. Her stepdad is an abusive asshole and her family struggle just to get by every day. I have no idea how to express how much I loved Eleanor as a character. She was so different and out there but also quite comfortable in her own skin at the same time. She knows that she isn't like other girls and never seems to let the nasty comments bother her.
Then there is Park. Park who makes me sigh out loud. Something absolutely refreshing about Park was that he is half Korean. It isn't often we see characters of mixed cultures in young adult books so this was something I was really glad to see. It also gives him and his family a superb personality. In Eleanor's world of torment and teasing, Park is her saviour on the school bus. When no one else will let her sit down, Park begrudgingly moves over and lets her sit next to him - a seat which becomes permanently hers from this moment on. Park and Eleanor don't talk though, they only sit and ignore each other. That is until Park realises that Eleanor is reading his comic books while he does on the sly which is what eventually sparks up their friendship.
Eleanor & Park is a story about unlikely friendships and first loves. Eleanor and Park are two characters forced together by unfortunate circumstances. The novel is told through a dual narrative from both characters. However, it doesn't always happen in full chapters, but instead, sometimes we only get a couple of lines from each of them. This way of telling the story made is possible to be fully invested in Eleanor and Park, to completely feel everything that they were feeling and also to understand what they were going through.
This isn't just a love story though. Rowell's writing is intensely raw and tackles so really tough issues. The issues that Rowell address, however hard and distressing they may be, help to mould the characters that she has created. The issues show the differences between Eleanor and Park but they also show how people from different backgrounds can come together and make things better between them. For me, everything about this book was perfection. I could not get enough of this story and the characters and I was utterly heartbroken when it was over.
Eleanor & Park is now one of my all-time favourite YA novels.