Title: Eleanor & Park
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: February 2013
Series: Stand Alone
Reason for Discovery: Rainbow Rowell Read-a-Thon
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.
On Eleanor's first day of school, she desperately needs to find a seat on the bus. Because Eleanor doesn't look like a cool kid, no one wants to share his/her seat with her. Although Park loves having a seat all to himself on the bus, he feels bad for Eleanor and lets her share his seat. Over the course of the school year, Eleanor and Park continue to sit next to each other and feelings of friendship, and later love, develop over sharing their love of comics and music. Eleanor and Park share almost everything with each other. Although Eleanor cares greatly for Park, she can't tell him what her home life is like.
When I started reading this book, I thought this was going to be a simple YA love story. Based on the GoodReads blurb, I figured that the two characters would grow apart or something but that would be the extent of the story. I was really wrong. This is a story about two teenagers falling in love even though they are not necessarily prom king and queen material. However, this is also a story about a lot of heavy issues including racism, poverty, and domestic violence. I really was not expecting this at all. In regards to Park, he is Asian and experiences varying levels of racism from his classmates and others. This storyline is fairly minor, but it is touched upon in a very thought out way. In regards to Eleanor, her step-father is an alcoholic and hits Eleanor's mother at times. Eleanor's family is also quite poor. Eleanor's home life issues were central to how Eleanor and Park navigated their budding relationship. Although I though this was discussed in a genuine and thoughtful way, if domestic violence is a trigger for you, this may not be a book for you.
I was really impressed with how Rainbow Rowell navigated heavy topics such as domestic violence and racism in a YA romance without feeling like it was over the top. I feel like a lot of books will add in a bit of domestic violence to make the book feel unique or gritty. Rowell does a great job of discussing this heavy topic without having it feel like an after school special or gratuitous. This was a heavy book that I probably would have been more hesitant to read, if I knew what the book was about; however, I am really glad that I read this book, because it was really good. I could not put it down.
I don't think I can say enough positive things about this book. The characters were well written and were consistent within themselves. Also, I thought that they felt like genuine teenagers; they did not feel wise beyond their years like can sometimes happen in YA books. Like I mentioned earlier, the social issues in the book were done in a respectful way. Also, I feel that this book could be used to discuss issues like domestic violence and poverty with teenagers. Finally, I thought that the romance between Eleanor and Park and their story in general felt honest and real. It did not seem over the top.
This was such a wonderful book. I give this book a 5 out of 5.