Do you ever just know you’re going to love a book before you even read the first page? That’s how I felt about Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park. The book got rave reviews from writers like John Green and Gayle Forman. I knew it was set in the 1980s and it featured a lot of music. Just look at that cover—could it be any sweeter? Oh, and the author’s name is Rainbow. Those are all the necessary ingredients for a recipe called My New Favorite Book.
Happily, when I started reading E&P, it didn’t disappoint. In fact, it actually surpassed my pretty lofty expectations. This is a book I hesitate to even write about because I can’t possibly do it justice. But I’m going to power through my self-doubt because I take my book review duties seriously (you’re welcome).
Eleanor is called Big Red by her high school classmates because she’s, well, big and has red hair (high school nicknames aren’t usually the most creative in their cruelty). Park is a half-Korean boy who might be on the fringes of popularity, but always feels like an outsider. Although Eleanor and Park are an unlikely pair, they end up sitting together on the bus, where they bond over comics and music. I’m pretty jealous that nothing even half this romantic happened to me when I had to ride the bus in high school—my bus rides had less romance, more Celine Dion on the soft rock radio. Not really a fair trade off.
Anyway, Eleanor and Park might originally bond over books and music, but their connection goes far deeper than Watchmen and Joy Division. Their love isn’t easy, and not just because their classmates have a hard time seeing them together. Sure, Eleanor and Park are different in physical ways, but they also come from different economic classes and very different families. Park might not have a cookie-cutter, perfect family, but they’re still mostly happy and functional. Eleanor’s home life, on the other hand, isn’t just bad—it’s a nightmare.
I hope this doesn’t all sound like a typical romance, because it’s anything but. I think of myself as a romance connoisseur (when it comes to reading—I’m not, like, some creepy seductress, I promise), and I’ve never read anything quite like Eleanor and Park. The book is sweet and funny, but their love is taken seriously, even when the outside world is pressing down on them with life or death problems. If you like romance, the 1980s, music, or just amazing books, pick up a copy of Eleanor & Park as soon as you possibly can. I promise you won’t be able to stop thinking about this book.
-As you guys might know, I love reading about swoon-worthy YA guys, and I’m definitely adding Park to the list. He’s one of the most three-dimensional love interests I’ve read in YA lately. He doesn’t conform to gender roles, he’s used to no one recognizing his Halloween costume when he dresses up as Doctor Who and he gets called gay or “part-girl” just because he has the gall to be himself. He reminds me of the guys I was friends with in high school, or the kind of guys I’m friends with now. You know, the kind of guys who girls actually want to be around because they’re fun people who aren’t concerned with acting super-macho and showing off all the time.
–E&P has some of the most interesting and charming side characters I’ve ever read. Park’s parents are delightful—I especially loved that his dad is repeatedly compared to Tom Selleck. All fictional dads should be Tom Selleck! His mother is sweet and hilarious and says something very funny about Patti Smith that I won’t ruin for you. And Eleanor’s friends, Beebi and DeNice, made me laugh out loud with their cafeteria observations. The book, as the title suggests, is about Eleanor and Park, but Rainbow’s other characters really round out their world.
–E&P isn’t Rainbow Rowell’s only book (insert sigh of relief here). She also wrote Attachments , which sounds like an office romance with shades of You’ve Got Mail (so, perfect), and Fangirl, which comes out later this year.
What about you guys? Have you read Eleanor & Park yet? Are you as in love with Rainbow Rowell as I am? And what are your favorite YA romances? Let me know in the comments! As always, I love to hear your suggestions for books to feature in Young Adult Education. Leave a comment, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Twitter @KerryAnn.