Posted on

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

It’s YA Day today, and it’s a new year, so the first review of the year is an old favourite.

Eleanor is growing up in the 1980’s in Nebraska. Eschewing the quaint charming lives of most YA where teens ‘problems’ are a lack of parental supervision, too much freedom and which good looking fellow teen they should go out with, this book presents a truly different perspective. Eleanor’s life sucks. She has recently returned to her home after her alcoholic abusive step father Richie had kicked her out. She shares a room with her four siblings and does her best to hide her home life at school where she is bullied over her weight and appearance.

Park also stands out in the community as he is Asian American, and while doesn’t get bullied in the same way as Eleanor, but is treated as an outsider. He loves comic books and they both love music, which acts as a thread throughout the novel. Just look at the track listing of one of the mixtapes exchanged between the pair – talk about nostalgia for the older readers and a new Spotify playlist for the teenage intended audience!

The writing is real and raw and the issues involved aren’t shied away from at all, but are framed in the way an older teen can handle and process, and recognise.

Eleanor is a likeable heroine, who is flawed but you will root for her. Park is perhaps not as well drawn, but is an interesting lead too. They’re relatable teens, and play with gender constructs too, in the way Eleanor dresses and the way Park experiments with eyeliner and an out of mainstream look.

Finally the relationship. It’s sweetly done, not rushed, and you become totally invested very quickly and get angry at the barriers they face, but the ending is not the one you would expect, which is also a welcome shift from the YA norm.