In 2014, the American Library Association named it a Michael L. Printz Award Honor Book for Excellence in Young Adult Literature and in that same year, I opened Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell for the first time in the Miami International Airport. In the wake of being immersed in The Fault in Our Stars and going off a Pinterest recommendation for “similar books to read,” I was both completely ready, and absolutely terrified, to read a book of that same caliber.
Set in 1980s Omaha, Nebraska, this story chronicles the lives (over the course of one year) of Eleanor and Park. Eleanor- a teenage girl, the oldest of 5, starting out the year at a new school. And Park- a teenage Korean boy, avid comic book reader and music fan. Right from the start you get a sense that the clock is winding down for these two individuals, that no matter how deep their trials go, there would be something that tore them apart. They meet on the school bus, and over the course of the first few days, they begin to bond slowly, and much of the time, without words. What really makes this story special is the completely conflicting worlds that the two main characters live in. Park’s home life is seemingly idyllic, everything from the relationship of his parents to the upkeep of their home. Eleanor’s home life is stricken by poverty, and attempting to steer clear of her abusive and controlling stepfather. The book is written in alternating narrative voices, and in doing so, show the mirror images of these two individuals. Park’s problems are internal, dealing with problems in his home life, and accepting the fact that he has fallen for the school’s outcast. Eleanor’s fight on the other hand is external, in learning to trust her feelings for Park, and dealing with the underlying sexual risk with her stepfather. These two contrasting points of view really add to the depth of the story, and captured the pure, all-consuming love that bloomed between these two characters.
In short, I loved this book. Something about two main characters who were both going through significant life events and changes, not just having the audience focused on one, made it enticing. I loved watching Park and Eleanor fall in love through all of the awkwardness that is high school, and being the new kid, or dealing with these types of family issues. It made it seem like that kind of connection is possible even in the most unexpected of places, and I think that’s extremely comforting for readers. For the outcasts, or the shy kids, or the everyday teenagers that are looking for that ‘someone.’ What I thought was really extraordinary with this particular book were the aspects of various social issues that were addressed, everything from bullying to race to sexual abuse. It was something that made the book special because it portrayed two people who thought that if they were together, their love could help them overcome anything.