Eleanor & Park has made its rounds on the blogosphere and booktube several times at this point. Rowell has captured the first love of two 15/16 year old kids in 1986 rather perfectly. But beyond that, she’s captured exactly what it’s like to be a misfit and to come from some pretty shitty circumstances. She’s created Eleanor, a girl growing up with a horrifically abusive stepfather, suffering from the severe constraints of poverty, and buried under the self-consciousness of being an overweight teenage girl. With Park, she’s drawn a half-white, half-Korean boy with a love of black clothes, punk rock, comic books, and a freakin’ heart of gold. A boy who deals with the constant disappoint of his father, constant comparisons to his more perfect brother, and who sits quietly on the school bus just hoping to go unnoticed. I loved them both unconditionally.
Eleanor and Park are real characters ; they feel like real people. These kids existed in 1986 and they exist now.
Rowell is a master of dialogue. She’s witty and clever yet manages to make her characters still sound like the young adults they are. That’s always been my problem with John Green. I love him to death, but his characters always sound too much like himself. Rowell might be MY John Green. (I still love you, John!!)
There are cheesy moments here, for sure. Moments that in other books and handled by other authors have often made me cringe. But I just smiled happily and kept right on going. Why? Because something was just so grounded in the realness of my memories of teenagedom that I couldn’t help reminisce on my own high school years – my own crushes and first loves – my own struggles with the world, internal and external. I saw myself written on the page.