Eleanor & Park
by Rainbow Rowell

Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park

Book review by Monica Friedman

Young Adult

Young Love Isn’t Like Romeo and Juliet

Eleanor doesn’t think Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy. “It’s Shakespeare making fun of love,” she says, but Park thinks that the play must have endured because it tells the truth, and “people want to remember what it’s like to be young…and in love.”

Eleanor believes that young love, no matter how powerful it feels, must be temporally limited. Park is certain that, if two people love each other enough, their love can last forever. But Park doesn’t know anything about Eleanor’s life, not really.

Summary - Eleanor & Park

Their meeting couldn’t have been less auspicious.

Eleanor is the new kid in school—only recently welcomed back into her family after her stepfather threw her out of the house and her mother abandoned her for an entire year—and she’s big and busty with an obscene quantity of fire-red hair, making her the perfect target for high school cruelty.

It’s 1986, and the idea that schools should work to prevent bullying doesn’t even hit the school counselor’s consciousness.

Park is the quiet, half-Asian kid who enjoys not being bullied. When fate throws them together on the school bus, he studiously ignores her as long as he can, because she’s the kind of person who can drag your reputation down.

But Eleanor and Park seem fated to experience love, bonding over comic books and music, holding hands where no one can see, and feeling things neither of them have felt before.

It shouldn’t matter, then, if Eleanor’s stepfather doesn’t allow her to talk to boys, or if Park’s mother thinks Eleanor is weird. They like each other. Nothing can come between them, even the opinions of the other kids.

After all, Park’s father has made him study tae kwon do his entire life, and he’s more than capable of defending Eleanor’s honor.

Eleanor doesn’t want her honor defended. Eleanor doesn’t need help.

Review - Eleanor & Park

Their relationship undergoes the typical ups and down, triumphs and misunderstandings. Together, they enjoy a slow exploration of physicality, but apart, Eleanor’s secrets are her truly private parts.

Her home life is an unmitigated disaster. No one can know that she shares a room with four siblings, three of whom sleep on the floor; or that their house has one bathroom, and it doesn’t have a door on it; or that she rubs salt into her teeth at lunch because she doesn’t own a toothbrush.

And no one can ever know exactly how horrible her stepfather really is.

In fact, it’s a small town, and almost everyone, it turns out, has a pretty good idea of approximately how horrible Eleanor’s stepfather really is. It’s just that, it’s a small town, and nobody is going to stick their nose in his business.

And then Eleanor realizes that her stepfather is ever worse than she ever imagined, and, if she’s not careful, she won’t be able to keep her secrets, or protect herself.

Eleanor & Park are two teens who learn to master the art of loving, and learn that love sometimes means sticking up, and sometimes means letting go. Eleanor must learn to trust Park enough to ask for help, and Park must accept that taking care of someone else doesn’t always mean holding them so close they’ll never slip away.

Read more of Monica's book reviews.

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