Review: Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell #Hypeathonreadathon #StandaloneSeptember
Beautiful story of first love - but that's not all...
Hi everyone! Thanks for stopping by! So, a couple of weeks ago I became aware of some drama on Twitter. That in itself is nothing new, as there is always a ton of drama going on there, isn’t it? Well, as usual, I kept away from it, but I noticed that it revolved around Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, a book I’ve been wanting to read ever since I read (and loved) Fangirl (want to read my review of that one? Here it is). A very lovely friend of mine was also simultaneously telling me about how much she loved the book, but I had mixed feelings. I didn’t really dive into those tweets that I had seen, but I think they said that they had problems with the representation of race in the book. However, I’m a big fan of forming a view on something like that myself, especially because I thought it was a bit weird that those accusations were coming up now, years after the book has been published. And also, my friend loved it – as did many others. So in the light of my and my friend Ellie’s readathon that we recently created – the #hypeathonreadathon – and the current reading month we called #StandaloneSeptember, we decided to give Eleanor & Park a try. And boy, am I glad I read this book! Let me tell you why.
Eleanor is the new girl in town, and she’s feeling more alone than ever. With her mismatched clothes, crazy red hair, more curves than the average girl and a pretty crappy home, she couldn’t stick out more if she tried. Then she takes the seat on the bus next to Park. He’s Asian, and probably the coolest guy Eleanor ever met. However, he doesn’t talk to her – or to anybody else on the bus. It seems to her he has figured out how to fly under the radar, which is just what Eleanor wants for herself. Then – through mix-tapes, comics and slowly incresing conversations, Eleanor and Park fall in love, slowly but steadily. But their lives couldn’t be more different. Is there a chance at a future together?
To say this book was adorable or really good doesn’t quite cut it. That wouldn’t even describe half of the feelings I went through while reading this book. After turning the final page, I needed a few days to collect my thoughts in order to be able to write this review. The growing relationship between Eleanor and Park is beautiful, wonderful, magical. Most of all, it is special. This book makes holding hands something precious again, and I was holding my breath more than once when I was desperate for them to kiss, but they didn’t. The emotional depth that Rowell created here is unbelievable. But that doesn’t just stem from the growing feelings of love between the two teenagers.
WATCH OUT FOR SPOILERS
Eleanor’s life could very well be described as a nightmare. She just returned home to her mother and younger siblings after having to live somewhere else for a year. Well, that’s not really describing what happened properly. At their last house, Eleanor got into a fight with her stepfather, and her mother decided to leave her with their neighbours to let her husband cool off. However, in the meantime, they moved away and left Eleanor where she was. Not at her father’s house either though, because each person that comes even close to a parent figure in her life is exactly the opposite of that. I hated Eleanor’s mother. Not because she is weak, but because she isn’t even trying to be strong for her children. She is staying with this guy, Richie, Eleanor’s stepdad, only because … well, what? I don’t even know why. She has no job of her own, so she has no money, but several children. So I guess money is an aspect, but she is probably also scared of him. She doesn’t seem to love him, and yet she is trying to please him all the time. But what’s worse, she’s making everyone around her please him too. Richie is probably the worst piece of filth the human world can produce. He’s not only an alcoholic, he is also abusive.
The “family” lives in a two bedroom house – the “parents” have a room, and the children. That means, 16 year old Eleanor has to share a tiny room with her four younger siblings. The children often lie awake at night when the screaming and crying in the room next door gets too loud. The whole atmosphere whenever Eleanor is at home is just so desperate that it is almost palpable. Unfortunately, not even her siblings are likeable (but that is something brought about by the situation they have to grow up in, so you cannot really blame them I guess).
Park, on the other hand, is the complete opposite of Eleanor. His family is intact, loving and caring. “Even though” he’s half Korean, Park is accepted for who he is (I mention this because it seems to have been an issue during the time). Park loves comics, music and martial arts. He has friends and a good relationship with his family.
When their lives collide, you’d expect sparks to fly. But the start of their relationship – if you can even call it that, as it feels like so much more – is very slow, quiet, but so, so beautiful.
Rowell captures the aspect of first love perfectly. From the first awkward glances and an initial feeling of dislike to the first small touches to the eventual butterflies that start flying – every aspect is thought of and integrated into the story.
The ending was special, in a kind of hard to grasp way for me. Immediately after turning the final page, I had to text my friends to see what they had made of it. It’s open, in a way, and even though it first… well, upset me a bit, I understand it now that I read Rainbow Rowell’s words at the very end of the book (she addresses the ending too). Eleanor and Park are both 16 at the end of the story, both teenagers, and they don’t get their happy ending. But that’s because they don’t get an ending yet. Their story – as their lives, really – is only just starting, and I think that’s beautiful. I’m a sucker for happily ever afters, but this explanation was enough to satisfy me.
This book is wholesome, complete, very deep. It will take you on a rollercoaster ride – you will get extremely sad, feel for Eleanor (and Park, but her especially), you will feel happy when they get to be happy, and you will smile when they do. This book is very different from what I had imagined when I first started it, but that has made it not any less perfect. I will think about it for a very long time, that much I’m sure about. And I wish everyone a first love (and maybe, because that’s what I wished Eleanor and Park, that first love will also be their one and true love for the rest of their lives). Definitely a 5 star read for me.
P.S. Another tiny plus that I just had to mention but didn’t really know where to put: The book is set in the 80s. That means no smartphones, no internet, no tablets. It kind of made me feel at home, even though I wasn’t alive in the 80s yet. Still, this aspect added to the story, and it made it even more special!