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Rainbow Rowell – Eleanor & Park

June 26, 2014

51. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (2012)

Length: 336 pages
Genre: Young Adult, General Fiction (maybe sort of Historical Fiction? But I refuse to accept 1986 as history, so: no.)

Started: 17 June 2014
Finished: 18 June 2014

Where did it come from? The library.
Why do I have it? It’s everywhere.

True love is: a seat
on the bus, and not caring
who might be looking.

Summary: There are politics to where you sit on the school bus, everyone knows that. So Park doesn’t understand why the new girl, with her bright red hair and her weird clothes can’t figure it out. Eventually, Park grudgingly allows her to sit next to him… a decision that will change both of their lives. Eleanor is back living with her mom, younger siblings, and stepdad, and her situation is pretty awful: the bullies at school are bad, being home is far worse, and her one bright spot is riding the bus with Park, who slowly begins acknowledging her presence. Park initially doesn’t want to jeopardize his tenuous social standing by being friendly to the decided misfit Eleanor, but little by little he comes to realize how much he likes her… and needs her. But with so much standing in the way – much of it their own inexperience and insecurities – can they even hope to have a successful relationship?

Review: That summary feels really weak, but the truth is, the plot to this book is fairly straightforward: Eleanor has a severely messed-up home life, Park does not, they meet, they fall for each other, but the course of true love never did run smooth, etc. It is not a particularly original plot. The book itself references Romeo & Juliet, for goodness’ sake. But the magic of this book is how amazingly well Rowell captures the joy and the pain and the tension and the angst of all of the little steps in between.

I loved this book. Really, really loved it. It felt honest and raw and true, and it captures the ways that first love is wonderful, and the ways in which it truly, truly sucks. It is in turns hilariously funny and heartwrenchingly sad, not to mention painfully awkward – just like being a teenager.

All through first and second and third hour, Eleanor rubbed her palm.
Nothing happened. How could it be possible that there were that many nerve endings all in one place?
And were they always there, or did they just flip on whenever they felt like it? Because, if they were always there, how did she manage to turn doorknobs without fainting?”
Maybe this was why so many people said it felt better to drive a stick shift. –Location 1009

(That scene was obviously immediately after a very sexy hand-holding scene. I do love me some sexy hand-holding.)

I recognized a lot of myself (or maybe my younger self) in both of the characters. My family life was much more similar to Park’s than Eleanor’s (thank goodness!), and I recognized a lot of the dynamics there. But I also recognized a lot of went on inside Eleanor’s head, and I recognized the anxiety and stress and not-fitting-in of both of them… and the giddyness and longing and small miracles of first love, too. (Like I said, about the hand-holding.)

There’s a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes me want to let him open doors for me. –Location 4411

You think that holding someone hard will bring them closer. You think that you can hold them so hard that you’ll still feel them, embossed on you, when you pull away. –Location 4545

I don’t know that I’m doing a great job conveying why this is such a great book, but it really, really was. I got sucked in and read (almost) the whole thing in a single day. (I could have finished it all, but I had to get up early the next morning and I could tell there was an emotional wringer coming, so I saved the last bit of it for the next day.) It’s one of those books that’s so full of emotion that it fills you up from the inside without making you feel manipulated, because it’s so unflinchingly honest. It’s just really, really good. 5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: John Green’s books are the most obvious read-alike, but anyone who likes contemporary teen fiction or who gets a touch nostalgic for their high school true love should really enjoy this book as well.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: There are roughly a million reviews of this one, so I’m just going to point you to the Book Blogs Search Engine.
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: He’d stopped trying to bring her back.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • Location 2924: ““What the fuck is this?” he said, flicking his spoon in the risalamande.” – rice pudding mixed with whipped cream, vanilla, and chopped almonds.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. June 28, 2014 7:06 pm

    I loved this book too. One of the things that really stood out for me was that Eleanor wasn’t beautiful and perfect – she was just average like most of us.

  2. June 29, 2014 8:47 am

    This is such a great read! I am glad you liked it too :)

    • July 25, 2014 7:01 pm

      Sheila – I absolutely devoured it, but then was left wanting to go back and read it again for the first time!

  3. July 1, 2014 9:17 am

    I loved this book (like most people!). The portrayal of their relationship as it developed was just so lovely, especially — as huge a cliche as it is — when Park is sharing his music with Eleanor.

    • July 25, 2014 7:02 pm

      Jenny – Ah, yes. It made me a little sad that I never got a mix tape from a boy… the mix CD just isn’t quite the same.


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