Title: Eleanor and Park
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Enjoyment Rating: *****
This book would be rated: More swearing than some readers may be comfortable with, a character who is abused by a stepparent
Last summer I read John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars on an epic road trip, and then I came home and read all of his other books, none of which was as satisfying as The Fault in Our Stars, but all of which were pretty decent in their own right. It was probably my favorite read of the summer.
This year, I started listening to Eleanor and Park one day when I was headed out for a run, and I found it nearly impossible to turn it off and engage in real life when I came home. It usually takes me at least a week to finish an audiobook, but I think I knocked this one out in two days. Like John Green, Rainbow Rowell’s novel is an incredibly readable story about a boy and a girl who start as not even friends, then become friends, and then more. Eleanor is the new girl at Park’s high school in Omaha (can I tell you how much I loved that the book was set in Omaha!) in the 1980s. She’s chubby and wears all the wrong kinds of clothes, and has flaming red hair. When she steps on the school bus for her first day, no one will let her sit with them, but Park, slight, half Korean and into punk music, eventually gives up part of his seat. He freezes her out for weeks, but then he notices that she’s reading his comic books over his shoulder.
I’ve read a few reviews that say that the book is basically just a love story, but I found the book to be more. Eleanor is new to the school because she has returned, after a year of living with her mom’s friend, to her mother and abusive (physically and possibly also sexually) stepfather’s house to share a tiny bedroom with her four younger siblings. She dresses funny because she has no money for normal clothes, no opportunity to even pretend to blend in. She washes her hair with dish soap or pet shampoo, and survives on ramen noodles and thin soups, even though her stepfather eats steak every night. Park’s life with his mom and dad and brother looks idyllic to Eleanor, but he feels like he doesn’t measure up to his dad’s expectations, and that most people in Omaha don’t have any idea what it feels like to be Asian.
While the story is great, I felt like listening to this book added a whole other dimension to the experience. The narration is fantastic– probably the best I’ve encountered in all of the books I’ve listened to. And set against the cultural backdrop of 1980s punk music, Eleanor and Park was a thoroughly entertaining read.