This ARC Review will be published on my blog, The Flyleaf Review
closer to publication.
If Gayle Forman's cover blurb hadn't convinced me to read this book:"This sexy, smart, tender romance thrums with punk rock and true love. Readers will swoon for Eleanor & Park."
then just the short line at the bottom of the synopsis would have:"Set in 1986, the story of two star-crossed misfits ."
Guys, I am all about some 80s (and 90s) nostalgia. In 1986 I was a freshman in high school (yep, just totally dated myself) and Eleanor & Park
is, without a doubt, a book that took me back. Before emails and text messages, before Facebook and Twitter there were mixed tapes. Got a crush on that seemingly unattainable guy who you think has never looked twice at you? Make him a mixed tape of unrequited love songs by New Order, Modern English and The Psychedelic Furs. Your girlfriend just up and dump you for that college guy in a band? Make her a mixed tape and pour out your frustration with OMD, Nik Kershaw and Joe Jackson. Say it with a song! The 80s mixed tape was a ready made love letter. In the days when MTV was still a channel that played music videos, a well thought out mixed tape perfectly captured all the angst and desire of the hormonal American teenager.
So when Park, who can no longer deny his fascination with new student and fellow bus rider Eleanor (even after a rocky introduction) decides to take action, he makes her a mixed tape. And not just any mixed tape. A compilation of songs from one of the GREATEST bands of the 1980s: The Smiths
. Friends, at this point of the book I was well and truly HOOKED. You see, I LOVE The Smiths, and the song that Eleanor and Park discuss in detail, How Soon Is Now?
, just happens to be my favorite Smiths song. I tell you all this because I, like so many others who have read Eleanor & Park
, walked away from this book feeling like it had been written just for me
. I connected to the book on so many levels. From the music and pop culture references, to the plight of the misfit/ outcast main characters, to the swoony, roller coaster emotional feelings of first love, I totally got it
. But don't get me wrong. You don't have to be someone who grew up during the 80s to love this book. If you took out all the 80s references and replaced them with current ones, Eleanor & Park
would still be a compelling read. The story of two young people struggling to find their place in the world and somehow managing to make a connection that eventually develops into first love is a universal theme.Yet somehow Rowell took this common theme and made it her own. Setting the book during this particular moment in time was just a bonus for this reader:)
The book, told in 3rd person dual narrative, features two remarkably fleshed out and finely crafted characters. And I would be hard pressed to say who I loved more, or whose narrative I enjoyed more. So I'll just tell you a little about what I loved about each of them.
I love that Park is Korean American. An awesome male pov is always good. But add to that a pov from the perspective of a person of color? BONUS. And yes, his Korean heritage does play a role in the story, but does not completely overpower it. I love that Park, living during the heyday of rock and roll androgyny (rock stars in make-up was the norm during the 80s-ranging from a little black eyeliner and hairspray of The Cure's Robert Smith to the full on gender bending of Culture Club's Boy George) found himself questioning all sorts of things about himself, including sexuality and what it means to "be a man." No, Park's not homosexual, but he's not a super straight laced guy's guy
like his father would like him to be either.
I love that even though Park knows it's a gamble to befriend Eleanor, he risks attracting unwanted attention to himself by standing up for her, he does it anyway. Yet, he struggles with the decision you guys. And his struggles and flaws make him all the more real (and awesome) to me. And I love that even though Eleanor sees herself as big, clumsy, and unattractive, Park finds her to be soft, warm, and sexy. Guys, Park is a total dreamboat. And he wears guyliner (SQUEE!!!) Fellow fans of The Cure, Depeche Mode, Echo and the Bunnymen and New Order KNOW what I am talking about here...
And Eleanor. I love that Eleanor, broken and hurting, is above all else a SURVIVOR. Even with her miserable home life, even with her being forced into a foster home, even with the everyday ridicule she faces at school and the emotional turmoil she faces at home, Eleanor always holds her head high and never lets anyone know how badly she is hurting inside. But Eleanor isn't the sweetest of girls. Living a life like hers has made her sarcastic, cynical, and rather abrasive. It's all part of what she does to make it through each day. So witnessing someone like Eleanor finally let somebody get close to her, somebody she describes as beautiful with "skin the color of sunshine through honey," was one of the most beautiful and touching things I have ever read.
And guys the ROMANCE in this book! It's not just the whole falling in love thing. It's not just the swoony, spine- tingling things they say to each other (and believe me, there are some really amazing examples written in.) It's the connection between Eleanor and Park that got to me the most. The development of their romance just rang true and pure and intense and REAL. It's a rare thing to take a love story and make it stand out from all the rest. But Rainbow Rowell somehow captured all the joyful, naive, wondrous roller coaster ride of emotions associated with first love yet also managed to make it feel like a mature, wise and deeply intense love at the same time. Straddling both ends of this spectrum in one 300+ page Young Adult book is not an easy thing. I can only think of a few authors who can pull it off, Gayle Forman, John Green and Melina Marchetta immediately come to mind, and Rainbow Rowell has done it here with Eleanor & Park
If you read this blog you know that the portrayal of the family unit in YA is a big thing for me. I really believe that YA books that gloss over the importance of family relationships, especially parental relationships, miss out on a great opportunity. In Eleanor & Park
, the relationship between Eleanor and her dysfunctional family and Park with his awesome and loving family is just as central to the story as the romance. It is absolutely heart breaking to witness Eleanor's home life. And on the other side of the coin, it is absolutely heart warming to witness Park's. The two couldn't be more different and it is both striking and impossible not to compare them as you read. I think that reading about an abusive family might actually be more common in YA than reading about a healthy, loving family so I LOVE that Rowell wrote Park's family as the latter. It is so REFRESHING to read about a close knit family where the parents not only care about their kids but care about each other. And even though Park has some issues with his dad, you never once get the feeling that there is anything other then complete love between the two. Reading about Park's family made dealing with the darkness of Eleanor's family more bearable.
And it is dark guys. Dark, depressing things go down in this book. But again, it only served to make the entire book feel more real, more authentic. I won't lie, it was hard to read. And without spoiling I will say that the ending isn't tied up nicely with a pretty bow on top. But it shouldn't be
. That kind of ending for this kind of book would not have felt right. That being said, the ending did leave me wanting a bit more. On the one hand it felt so right, but on the other I feel like I need MORE. I won't say anything else. Read it and maybe you will see what I mean.
Overall, Eleanor & Park
was an amazing read. Eleanor & Park
is why I LOVE YA Contemporary. It is one of those
books, and Eleanor and Park are two of those
characters, that I know I won't ever forget. So, if you grew up during the 80s or love 80s nostalgia you MUST read this book. If you are one of those people that always wondered what would have happened if Andy had fallen in love with Duckie* instead of Blaine in Pretty in Pink
, you should pick this one up. And if you love Contemporary YA, love well crafted characters, love swoonworthy romance AND deeply intense connections then you too should check out Eleanor & Park
. It is definitely going down as one of my most memorable reads of the year:)* Although Park is MUCH hotter than Duckie. No offense to John Cryer:)