Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
St. Martin's Griffin, 2013
“He'd stop trying to bring her back,” is the first line of this second novel by Rainbow Rowell. We soon learn that “he” is Park, a sixteen-year old half-Asian boy who used to be friends with some of the popular kids on the bus and now mostly tries to lay low and stay out of their way.
And "she" is Eleanor – the new kid in school, with wild matted red hair and crazy clothes with patches and eccentric accessories, who doesn't even make any effort to try and fit in. She's new at school and, by the time she arrives, all of the seats on the bus are taken.
She stands uncertainly in the aisle until Park takes pity on her and tells her (in a not-very-nice way) to sit down next to him. For a long time, they don't look or speak to each other at all. But one day, Park notices that Eleanor is reading his comic books over his shoulder, and a tentative friendship gradually develops.
The foreboding of the opening sentence of the novel hangs over the reader's head as we slowly fall in love with Park - the son of an all-American Vietnam veteran and his Korean hairstylist wife, and Eleanor - who lives in abject poverty and fear of her abusive step-father. And Eleanor and Park fall in love with each other.
The story takes place in the eighties, so Park and Eleanor share cassette tapes and listen to punk rock. But today's teens will have no trouble identifying with the intense feelings they develop for one another, and will unfortunately recognize some of the incidents of cruelty that Eleanor suffers at the hands of her peers as well.
If this book were a movie, it would be rated R for language, violence, and sex. But the tenderness of the love between the two protagonists, provides a stubborn sense of hope, against a backdrop of impending doom. I won't give away the ending. But I can almost guarantee that mature teen readers will love this book (and its quirky characters) as much as I did.
Rainbow Rowell lives in Omaha Nebraska, with her husband and two sons. She's also the author of Attachments. Visit her web site at www.rainbowrowell.com.
Renée Vaillancourt McGrath has worked at Montana Public Radio as a program host since 2002. Her background is in librarianship and she currently works as a freelance editor, blogger, and website developer. Check out more of her book reviews at reneesreads.com.