Review: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell Published 2012 328 Pages (Hardcover)
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Published 2012
328 Pages (Hardcover)

Quick Review

Everyone loves this book. I’m sure it’ll be making favorite book of the year lists all over the place this week, and it’ll probably be on mine too. Whenever I actually come up with it. (Hopefully before February.) It’s a love story that both warms and breaks your heart in equal measure, made timeless by its deliberate dating and enduring theme. The characters shine and each of their simplest gestures of romance take your breath away. Read it, read it, read it. 5/5 Stars

Storytime

I normally don’t do this, but I want to pause the review and tell the story of how my reading this book came about, since it’s just a fun story on its own. Eleanor and Park had been floating around my mental list of things to read for a long while, but it came back to the forefront after I finished Fangirl and then it leaped to the top of the list this past week after it was recommended back to me by a friend.

“Recommended back” is a weird way to put it, but here’s how things went down:

I met up with some friends last Tuesday night to exchange Christmas gifts and have dinner. One of these friends, Savanna, is a big reader as well and we got to talking about books after I gifted The Raven Boys to her. Brittney, who is decidedly not a reader, was also there and she was shocked at how flustered we both got when cryptically (friend #4, Kayla, hasn’t read it it yet) talking about The Fiery Heart. Determined to get her on the crazy reading train with us once and for all, Savanna and I convinced Britt to accompany us to Barnes & Noble to pick something out. After a good half hour of wandering, trying to suss out what she might be interested it, we were vacillating between several YA contemporaries, one or two of which I had read before and liked. She almost bought Thirteen Reasons Why, was definitely interested in borrowing my copy of The Fault in Our Stars, but Savanna thought it would be most fun to have her buy and read something we hadn’t before, thinking it made the most sense to have her get something one of us didn’t already own. So after spotting Fangirl (which I had just finished) on an end-cap, I remembered hearing amazing things about Eleanor & Park and used my expert book-shopping skills to hunt it down (I couldn’t find it, had to ask at customer service, and was directed to a table three feet behind me.) Brittney bought it and we all went home. I thought it would take her at least a week to read it, and I was nervous. I’d heard wonderful things about Eleanor & Park, but I couldn’t know they were true until I read it myself. Still thinking about it on Thursday, I grabbed it at the library, intending to get to it only after I’d finished the other library books due back sooner, because I’m OCD about my library due dates.

Then on Friday morning I wake up to a Facebook message Britt sent just after midnight saying that she “couldn’t put it down” and “I couldn’t believe that it was over,” offering it up to whoever wanted it next while begging me for The Fault in Our Stars. I dropped my phone and grabbed Eleanor and Park off my TBR pile, getting 40 pages in before leaving TFIOS on my front porch for her to pick up that day if she wanted and dashing out the door to work. I thought I was misreading her excitement in assuming she’d want to go out of her way to come to my house and navigate the icy steps up to my door to grab a book out of the storm door that never opens right because Dad thought it would be a good idea to install it himself, but it was gone when I got home that night. Now we’ll see who blushes and gets all excited when we next talk about books.

TL;DR: My friend who “doesn’t read” picked up Eleanor and Park and loved it and I have an over-inflated sense of pride about being the one to hand it to her in the bookstore.

Back to Business

I pretty much liked everything about this book, so this section is superfluous and I’ll try to keep it short.

This is a romance book that I loved, so of course, I loved the romance. It evolves well, from first day hesitance to charged friendship to infatuation over the course of a few months with all the requisite speed bumps along the way. The physical scenes are quiet, but every small gesture is detailed and heavy with emotion, though never in a way that felt overly saccharine or just plain over done.

I enjoyed the characters overall also. They are both just so realistic as teenagers. They are uncertain yet unerringly passionate; striving for independence as they stick close to home. I loved them even as they made mistakes because their mistakes made them all that much more real. Setting this book so firmly in the past was a stroke of genius that made it timeless (and helped the plot near the end there). This is a book that can never feel dated, written as it is almost as a historical fiction (landlines and paper book covers and cassette tapes and handwritten letters)

Wrap-Up

This is sweet and true, idealistic without shying away from imperfection, celebrating both youth and love. I think teenagers can relate, and those of us who aren’t teenagers anymore will find themselves remembering something from that time when every moment felt important. It’s not overstating it to call it a standout in the genre in recent years. If you’ve read all these rave reviews and haven’t checked it out for yourself you should. As soon as you can.

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