I have to process some emotions before I write this review. But can I just say, I really wish we had the option for half stars!!! This was a solid 4.5 for me.
So, there have been a lot of teen love stories around lately, and a lot of them have gotten very, very popular. (Twilight, Delirium, all those angel books.) And many times these teen love stories become huge, sweeping, overwrought tales of destined, true love. These kids are meant to be together! It's gotten to the point where even books where romance is decidedly not the point end up with "teams," creating an epic love story where it was merely incidental. (The Hunger Games. Team Gayle? Team Peeta? No. Team Katniss.) I do understand why this happens, though.
Teens are in a weird love space. They're hormonally primed for feelings of love and lust. It's possible, when you're a teenager, to fall in deep and passionate love with two people in one week. And because teenagers are young, and coursing with hormones, and inexperienced at the larger parts of what we know as life, it's easy for us olds to discount that love. But the fact remains that, no matter how fleeting or ill-advised these feelings can be when you're young, they are absolutely real. Just because you won't remain in love with Jordan Knight (yes, that's right, I was a fan of NKOTB), doesn't mean that it's not completely real to you. And I know what you're thinking: these teenage crushes are not even in the same hemisphere as real, complicated, messy, exhausting, exhilarating, frustrating actual love. This is true, but we also need to remember two things. One, that no one starts sprinting right out of the gates. Crushes are an introduction to love, and just because it isn't an aged vintage doesn't make it any less potent. Two, there are instances where teens fall in lasting love. Some happily married couples meet in high school. It's rare, but it happens.
So now to the book. In my opinion, a truly exceptional teen love story will take all of this into consideration. It will walk that knife's edge, between acknowledging that this love feels as real as anything and knowing that chances are against its longevity. And Eleanor and Park does this so. Well. It's the ultimate reminder of how horrible and wonderful and scary first love is. You root for these characters, and you care for these characters, and both you as a reader and they as characters try to shove the knowledge that this relationship is likely to end far, far under the rug. You don't want the expected end to this teen relationship, but the circumstances in the book make it likely. And as a result the author does the impossible: she can take someone with the perspective of a few years and put them smack back in the same position they were in during a first love. And it's painful. But it's worth it.
On a side note, I also feel like Rainbow Rowell has done an amazing job of depicting exactly how awful high school is. Modern America can look back at all the coming-of-age rituals involving pain and mutilation and think "how barbaric!" But honestly, we have to acknowledge that we've just replaced them with a subtler form of torture.
**A free copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review via NetGalley.