Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

parkIt’s been a couple of weeks since I read this, so I hope I can capture how I felt when I finished. I truly thought about this book a lot in the days immediately following. It’s gotten a lot of hype, I had it checked out twice and didn’t read it, and then after a friend told me she loved it and I really had to, I got on board and zoomed right through it.
This was flat-out wonderful. I think one of the reasons I wasn’t initially that interested is because I thought the book was simply about two teens falling in and out of love. And don’t get me wrong-that’s a fine story right there. But it turns out I was really all wrong and I loved what the story was about.
Park first sees Eleanor on the bus, where since she’s a new girl in high school and funny looking, she is immediately shunned. Park lets her sit next to him but they don’t talk.  After a while he notices that she reads the comic books he is reading by looking over his shoulder. And eventually, Park gives her one to take home to finish.  I loved this growing shared bond over reading and Eleanor’s introduction to the world of comic books. Now, while this happening the point of view shifts being Eleanor and Park and we find out that Eleanor’s stepfather kicked her out a year ago and she has only just come home.  She has four younger brothers and sisters and all five of them share a tiny bedroom in a tiny house that only has a doorless bathroom in the kitchen. Eleanor has to bather when her disgusting stepfather isn’t at home and her mom watches out for her. There was such a growing tension and fear in the book as you (and Eleanor) became afraid that Richie would find out about her relationship with Park, that he would rape her, that he would kill her mother, that he would beat the kids, etc.  I was so horrified and disgusted by Eleanor’s mother’s role in her life and allowing her husband to treat her children like that.  And for that matter, Eleanor’s father makes an appearance and that’s horrifying too. What kind of people allow their children to not even have a toothbrush? So, I thought this was just a love story, but as much as Eleanor and Park’s love story is beautiful and sweet, I felt the bigger story was would Eleanor escape? I also really liked seeing into Park’s life-his mother was Korean and his dad met and married her when he was overseas. It’s the 1980s in Nebraska, so they kind of stick out.  I wondered why the author wanted to set this in the 80s-because stories are better when we don’t have the convenience of cell phones? Because she wanted to include all the music that Park introduces Eleanor to? (i.e, the Smiths)
It was a terrific story and I will absolutely go read her prior book, Fangirl.

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