“You saved my life, she tried to tell him. Not forever, not for good. Probably just temporarily. But you saved my life, and now I’m yours. The me that’s me right now is yours. Always.“
Eleanor is the redheaded new student with weird clothes who is destined to not fit in at her new school. Park is a pretty normal half-Korean kid. When Eleanor is forced to sit beside Park on the school bus, the two bond over comic books and music and slowly forge a friendship that eventually turns into a romance. However, the secrets that Eleanor keeps about her home life will threaten to tear the two of them apart.
Eleanor & Park truly shows the magic of first love. And not just a first love, but a true love. When you have a friendship with someone that slowly turns into something more, that turns into everything. Can the love between Eleanor and Park last? Will it transcend age and time and growing into adulthood? We don’t know and that’s not the point. What they have is real for them in the moment and this book is about that discovery and feeling.
I liked the pacing of Eleanor and Park’s friendship and romance. How they went from being indifferent to each other, intrigued, and then realizing that they had things that they could talk about. The novel is set in 1986 and it works really well for the story. I think that setting was able to give Eleanor and Park’s friendship/relationship an innocence that’s kind of lost today. Rowell was able to have them bond over comic book titles that were just coming out and gaining popularity back then (Watchmen) but is still very familiar to a youthful audience today. The same is true for the music. I also liked the presence of Park’s parents and how the two of them didn’t have the freedom that most in teenagers in YA seem to have. It’s much more realistic, I think. At least it speaks more to how I grew up where I had curfews, I couldn’t just go out anywhere or travel anywhere by myself with friends, and my parents were at home more often than they were not. Its nice that this novel establishes those boundaries for the characters and I really liked Park’s parents. Eleanor’s, not so much.
What I didn’t like about the book is that towards the end it gave too much focus on Eleanor and Park’s undying love and not enough on Eleanor’s home life. The situation that Eleanor was in was really horrible and screwed up, and while it was nice that Eleanor had an escape in Park and his family, I couldn’t help but think about Eleanor’s mom and her siblings. What happened to them after Eleanor ran away? It was never made clear. It was all about how Eleanor had to leave Park and how tragic it was that circumstances were pulling them apart. In my mind, that’s the least of Eleanor’s problems but that was what the end of the book was all about. It seems implied that Eleanor’s mom and the kids left Richie, or maybe they were taken away, but it bothers me that I have to speculate about that and we’re not directly told.
Overall, the love story between Eleanor & Park was written very well and I liked Rainbow Rowell’s writing style. I’ll be picking up Fangirl sometime soon because I think that will be much more up my alley. But I think the themes of domestic abuse could have been handled and resolved better.