Book Review: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

eleanor-and-parkEleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell is the 4th book in my personal challenge to read and review 12 books in 12 months. You can see the rules I’m following for this challenge in a previous post, here. To read my first review, click here.

In this review series, I will do my best to avoid major spoilers. I will, however, tell you what kind of content to expect (romance, adventure, action, gore, sex, etc.) I know I like to see that kind of information when I’m looking for something new to read.

A brief overview of the book:

Genre: Young Adult

Pacing: Fast

Content: This is a YA romance set in 1986. Expect swearing, bullying, hints of sex (nothing graphic. This is YA), and some violence/abuse.

Eleanor & Park is a YA novel about two teenagers in the mid 1980s who meet on the school bus, become friends, and eventually fall in love. Their backgrounds are vastly different, and sometimes they’re reluctant to share those differences with each other. But maybe they can make it work.

My first thoughts on this book can be summed up in one syllable: AW!

This is easily the cutest YA couple I’ve ever read about. Granted, I don’t read a ton of stories where the romance is such a primary part of the plot, but OH MY GOSH I love these two. I enjoyed every minute of their awkwardness, their gradual friendship, the headphones and comic books and just general aw moments. I’m scared to say too much and give away the plot of the book, but I think this story tackles a lot of interesting topics gently, in a way that’s accessible for teenage readers, but also exciting and well paced.

A big theme that’s tastefully and tactfully explored is the relationship between violence and masculinity, and it’s explored in a very YA-appropriate way that really relates to the characters and feels very real to life. These characters are learning about their identities while figuring out how to interact with each other. Park is clueless sometimes about what’s going on with Eleanor, and some of that is inexperience on his part, but a lot of it is just the lack of dialogue from her about what’s really going on, and I think a lot of first relationships do end up being like this.

I’m particularly impressed with the combination of pacing and character development in this book. The characters really drive the story, but it also has a plot, with little instances that build into a very real, dangerous problem for the characters. Love stories sometimes drag for me if the characters and relationships aren’t developed well, but once Rowell got my interest, she didn’t lose it. I was a little worried for the first few pages, but once Eleanor was introduced and the story switched to her perspective for the first time (it goes back and forth between Park’s perspective and hers), and her awkward placement right next to Park was established, there was an immediate, palpable tension between the two characters. I found myself really believing the relationship every step of the way, which is difficult for a writer to do. (Trust me, I’ve tried.)

This is a YA book, so it’s a fast read. You won’t find yourself stumbling over the language, but you may find yourself loving these characters. I highly recommend this book to readers who enjoy love stories and/or YA. I will definitely be checking out other books by this author in the future.

Have any book recommendations? Thoughts about YA books in general? Maybe you’ve read this book too and have thoughts to share! Feel free to leave a comment below.

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