Teen Romance Book Review: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
Eleanor... Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough...Eleanor.
Park... He knows she'll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punch line. There's a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises...Park.
Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.
Before I read the book, I didn't know anything about it. Eleanor's home life caught me off guard and made this a difficult book to read. But I enjoyed it anyway.
Eleanor and Park are really cute together. The dialogue between them is funny and realistic and, like Eleanor, I needed the interaction between the two of them to get through the darker moments of the book.
Eleanor just spent a year away from her family after standing up to her violent alcoholic stepdad, Richie. She comes back to find her four siblings resigned to his existence and her mother still getting abused by him. Under his tyrannical rule, she and her siblings are trapped in their room every day after school to stay out of his way. While he squanders money on booze, they go without toothbrushes and clothes that fit. But there's no escape. But hey, at least they can sleep through the fighting sometimes.
It was really difficult to read about Eleanor's home life, but it was really well-written. It's a very realistic depiction of living in a toxic household and the damage it can inflict. Her only real escape is school, and the bus rides to and from school, making her interactions with Park that much more meaningful. I really liked Eleanor. I thought she was really funny and clever. She's definitely flawed. I didn't always like how she treated Park and her insecurities annoyed me sometimes, especially when they made her act defensive or angry but for the most part, I really liked her as a character.
Park is... flawed. It took him a long time to stop resenting Eleanor for needing to sit while riding the bus and to stop judging her clothes. But after he got used to her and even started liking her a little bit, he was really sweet. He lent her comic books and mixtapes and didn't even question it when she took the batteries out of his Walkman so she could listen to music at home. He was also the more open one in the relationship, which was a nice change of pace. He said the "L" word long before she did (long, long before she did) and was convinced the two of them would marry one day. He was mostly really amazing with Eleanor and I liked them together a lot. The only time he really acted like a jerk to her was when he found out someone was writing malicious and explicit things on Eleanor's textbooks and he accused her of writing them herself. That was really shitty and out-of-character for him. It made me like him a lot less. But he is definitely a good love interest all-around.
The ending was a bit of a let-down because I didn't get enough closure about Eleanor's family. There are hints they left Richie, but not enough confirmation for me. I really wish I knew for sure they were in a better place. As for both Eleanor and Park, their ending was heartbreaking but realistic. As sad as it was, I knew it had to end the way it ended. If they had tried to have a long distance relationship after Eleanor moved away, they would have drifted apart. Like Eleanor had decided, sometimes it's better to just... stop.
This book is definitely worth reading, and I highly recommend you giving it a shot. It's a 4 star read because even though I really enjoyed it, the ending wasn't satisfying enough for me.