I received an ARC of Eleanor & Park through NetGalley, and let me be honest—I almost put the book down after the first couple of chapters. Now that I have finished the novel, I am so glad that I kept reading because it was really good! I think it may be my favorite YA Romance that I’ve read.
Eleanor & Park is a high school, Romeo & Juliet kind of romance, except that it’s actually mature. It isn’t love or lust at first sight—it’s more of a disdain at first sight.
Eleanor has just moved back in with her mom, stepdad and four other siblings. Although she’s glad to be back with her family, she despises her stepdad (Richie), for reasons that are gradually revealed throughout the novel. Richie is a truly terrible father figure, and his presence keeps the novel grounded. The sweet romance is tempered by the reality of Eleanor’s horrific home life.
Not only does Eleanor’s home life suck, but she’s the new girl at school and no one wants to be her friend because she’s fat, has screaming red hair, and dresses weird (and that’s saying something since this takes place in 1986). On her first day of school, she gets on the school bus and can’t find a seat because no one will share their seat with her. Frustrated with her standing in the aisle, Park scoots over and barks at her to sit down.
Park is friends with the popular kids, but he still doesn’t quite fit in. His mom is Korean and his dad is an American soldier who now teaches taekwondo. Although his brother looks more like his dad, Park looks a lot like his mom and is shorter than most of the guys in his class. He spends his days drowning out the world with punk rock music and reading comics. Compared to Eleanor, Park’s family looks like the Cleavers, but that doesn’t mean that their relationships are perfect or that Park doesn’t have his own identity issues.
Eleanor & Park takes Romeo & Juliet and flips it on its head. Instead of love (lust) at first sight, Eleanor and Park are annoyed with each other, and it takes time for them to open up to each other. Even the gender roles are reversed, as is indicated by the title. At one point, Eleanor claims that she’s the “Han Solo” of the relationship, and Park is jokingly offended, asking if that means he’s Princess Leia. She tells him not to get hung up on gender roles, and this novel doesn’t. Eleanor tends to wear masculine clothes and is uncomfortable with makeup or doing her hair. Park constantly feels self-conscious because he doesn’t live up to his dad’s standards of masculinity and tends to be more sensitive. Through their relationship, Eleanor & Park learn that it’s okay to be who they are, even if that doesn’t conform to society’s or their parents’ standards.
I really, really enjoyed Eleanor & Park! I would HIGHLY recommend it to young readers (junior high through high school) who enjoy romance. The novel addresses some very real issues that teenagers deal with, such as identity, abuse, parental acceptance, peer acceptance, and bullying, to name a few. The novel is also peppered with 80s nerd pop culture references, and it was absolutely delicious.
The only problem I had was that there was A LOT of cussing, and the characters said “Jesus” a lot, which bothered me personally and distracted me from the story. This may not bother some people, though, as the cursing was in character, and I think it would be hard to tell this story while truly portraying certain characters or situations without using cuss words.
Eleanor & Park was a refreshing romance that I highly recommend.
The book was originally released earlier in 2012 and is being re-released on February 26 with the featured cover. Personally, I like it much better than the first cover, which has silhouettes that are supposed to be Park and Eleanor, but they don’t really look like they could be them. The new cover better captures the spirit of the novel.
Rainbow Rowell has another book out called Attachments (which sounds really cute) and a new book coming out in the fall called Fangirl. It’s about a girl who’s so into fictional men that she has a hard time having relationships with real guys. I’m excited to read it! Also, the cover is illustrated by Noelle Stevenson (more popularly known on the Webz at Gingerhaze)!