Review: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Saturday, February 2, 2013
Title: Eleanor and Park
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Genre: young-adult
Series: N/A
Pages: 3302 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: expected February 26, 2013
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3.5/5

"Bono met his wife in high school," Park says.
"So did Jerry Lee Lewis," Eleanor answers.
"I’m not kidding," he says.
"You should be," she says, "we’re sixteen."
"What about Romeo and Juliet?"
"Shallow, confused, then dead."
''I love you," Park says.
"Wherefore art thou," Eleanor answers.
"I’m not kidding," he says.
"You should be."

Set over the course of one school year in 1986, ELEANOR AND PARK is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under.

Eleanor and Park really is quite a cute story at times, though it isn't afraid to try and tackle heavier topics during its exploration of first and real love. However, despite its and the authors best attempts, the romance is the focal point of this short-ish novel about two misfits in the 80s. A book seemingly made for easy reading on a lazy day, Rainbow Rowell's second novel is quiet, charming, if sometimes a bit too sweet, but still a novel that is worth reading. It's cute, occasionally both funny and saccharine. Eleanor and Park is filled to the brim with: 80's nostalgia, sad circumstances, fluff. All in all, I found this to be a fast, realistic read.

Eleanor and Park are two misfits who find each other in an unlikely, though pretty creative way. I have to admit Rowell's use of the meet-cute was new and fresh how she used it here. These two main characters bond over a love of comic books and good music from their time, and it feels normal and authentic. They grow closer and closer fairly quickly, and their attraction is solidly built on more than just pheromones and looks. I did hope that the plot would have more direction than just a love story, and while I didn't get that, I did get a believable love story between two likeable characters. 

I did like this, I had fun reading it and spending time in each narrator's head, but Eleanor and Park wasn't all it could have been. Like I said earlier, there are some heavy topics and issues at play for such a romance-centric novel. Not all of it really works, sadly.  And some subplots feel short-changed and heavy-handed when all is said and done. The problems between each character and their respective parents - Park with his Dad, Eleanor with her mom and her stepdad - really never feel fully realized or resolved by the end of the book. They add complications and complexity to the lives of the two teenagers, but are never really explored for a deeper impact.  It's all too neatly fixed or ignored by the end of the book, and I was disappointed with the quick fix.

Though not a perfect novel, Eleanor and Park is a quick and mostly enjoyable read. It's not as deep or meaningful as it could have been, but what is good about it - Eleanor, Park, their relationship - is good enough to carry the dead weight. Frustrating at times though it may be, this is a good example of teenage romance done well and right - I would read more novels from Rowell, and hope that her execution continues to grow and allow her to explore her deeper plots without shortchanging the fun. If you liked her first, or if you're looking for a sweet love story, this is the one to pick up. Also: that cover is absolutely lovely and fitting. Well done, there.

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