BOOK REPORT for Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Graded By: Jenny Bird

Cover Story: Perfection

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BFF Charm: Platinum Edition

Swoonworthy Scale: 10

Talky Talk: He Said, She Said

Bonus Factors: The Real '80s, Diversity, Cliff Huxtable Award for Awesome Parenting, The Patty Chase Award for Awful Parenting

Relationship Status: Going To The Chapel

Eleanor & Park

Cover Story: Perfection

This cover is beautiful in its simplicity. There's no way a stock photo could ever capture the essence of the story in the same way that this simple drawing does. It also doesn't scream YA, which is always a good thing when you're a 30-something.

The Deal:

Eleanor has just been allowed to move back home after spending a year staying with her old neighbors after her stepdad kicked her out. Now that she's finally able to see her four younger siblings again, she's got to make it work. For their sake, if not her own. 

Park is passably popular, but always on the fringe. He'll never truly belong with the in-crowd, because he's half Korean, likes good music and is obsessed with comic books. And the other kids in his Omaha school just don't get it.

Park makes room on his bus seat for Eleanor, just to get the weird, plump, red-haired kid to sit down. The other kids were calling her names, and she was just standing there, taking it, allowing a scene. But now he's stuck sitting next to her for the whole bus ride to school for the whole year.

First, he notices her reading his comics over his shoulder. Next, he notices himself tilting them toward her a little bit so she can see better. Then he's leaving them for her. Then they're talking. Then he can't wait to see her every morning....

BFF Charm: Platinum Edition!

BFF Platinum 2

Every moment in Eleanor's life is hard, terrifying and uncomfortable. Whether it's at school, where everyone calls her Big Red and Bozo, or at home, trying to bathe in the one bathroom off the kitchen—the one that doesn't have a door—or trying to sleep in a room cramped with all of her brothers and sisters, or just trying to stay out of her stepdad Richie's way when he's drunk and angry (and that's all of the time). She can't get comfortable in her own skin, with all its boobs and hips and butt that just seems like too much of everything, and gets her called fat, even though they're so poor she's hungry most of the time. I would like to put my arms around her, bring her to my house and never, ever let her go. I would like to show her how smart and talented and interesting and beautiful she is, and when she finally believed it, send her out into the world to change it. I would be her best friend or her mother or the friendly neighbor she could always call. I would, essentially, be whatever she'd let me be.  

Park somehow manages to be one of the most realistic male characters I've read while also being somehow cooler, sweeter and more swoony than any actual teenage boy could ever be to anyone but a teenage girl. Not only would I wanted to have been best friends with him in high school, but if I had a daughter, I would want her to have someone like him in her life. If there is a way for mothers out there to raise their sons to be boys like Park, the world would be a better place.

I'd also be remiss not to mention DeNice and Beebi, the girls who actually do remind Eleanor what it's like to have friends.

Swoonworthy Scale: 10

Good Lord, the intensity of the swoon in this book. Rowell writes romantic scenes in a way that feels completely honest to her characters, is breathtaking in its innocence, and yet…you might want to set your air conditioning to it's coldest setting, ifyouknowwhatimsayin'.  

Talky Talk: Omniscient He Said, She Said

This book will break your heart and put it back together again. It is deliriously beautiful. It will remind you of what it felt like the first time you fell in love, how mesmerizing and mind-numbing and consuming it was to feel, to touch that person—even if you're just holding hands. It will remind of the despair that can only be felt when you're a teenager and it really and truly seems like the whole world is against you just being. And how perhaps it was music or a book or another person who made everything all right again. Or, like Park thinks, when Eleanor scolds him for telling her she looks nice:

Eleanor was right: She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn't supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.

The author alternates between the two protagonists, writing from an omniscient perspective. She switches back and forth throughout the chapters, so we can see what both of them are experiencing at the same time:

park

When he saw Eleanor walking toward him on Monday morning, Park wanted to run over and sweep her up in his arms. Like some guy in the soap operas his mom watched. He hung on to his backpack to hold himself back….

It was kind of wonderful.

eleanor

Park was just her height, but he seemed taller.

park

Eleanor's eyelashes were the same color as her freckles.

eleanor

They talked about the White Album on the way to school, but just as an excuse to stare at each other's mouths. You'd think they were lip-reading.

Bonus Factor: The Real '80s

80s

Forget Madonna, neon green and hypercolor: This book recalls what I remember about being a kid in the '80s. How it's possible that the girl who wears all the weird men's clothing isn't really trying to make a statement, it's because she's so neglected that's all she's been able to scrounge up to cover herself. How some kid you go to school with might be sneaking salt packets at lunch to rub on her teeth in the bathroom, because she doesn't have a toothbrush. Because so many of the necessities we take for granted now weren't quite so available even as recent as 30 years ago. Not to say that gross neglect and extreme poverty are extinct, by any means, but I had a conversation with someone born in the '90s who found the extent of neglect in this book a little far-fetched. Perhaps it was the poor community in the south where I was raised, but I had no such obstacle with believing.

There's also discovering music through mixtapes, the first time you heard The Smiths, and even though everybody else thought it was depressing, you heard the humor in Morrissey's voice. There's having to wait for things—whether it be the next issue of The Watchmen, or to find out what that song that just blew your mind was—because there's no Internet, and that somehow made those things more precious.

Bonus Factor: Diversity

Diversity

Rowell paints an honest picture of growing up as a mixed-race kid in a small town. It isn't always pretty, but it isn't always bad. It is what it is.

Bonus Factor: The Cliff Huxtable Award For Awesome Parenting

Bill Cosby

Park's parents are not only two of the most realistic adult characters I've ever read in YA, they are also amazing parents. Far from perfect, they are still very much in love and focused on each other, often at a loss as to how to deal with their son. They make some mistakes, but when all's said and done, it's the relationship they have with Park that had me cheering them on.

Bonus Factor: The Patty Chase Award For Awful Parenting

Patty Chase

Richie is a despicable a-hole. He's horrifying. But just as horrifying is Eleanor's mother, who is unable to leave him, even to save her own children.

Casting Call:

This book is nigh impossible to cast from Hollywood's current lot of young actors. I did the best I could:

Christina Hendricks

Young Christina Hendricks as Eleanor

I imagine if a young Christina could manage Eleanor's "rough around the edges" attitude, she would have worked.

Ricky Kim

Ricky Kim as Park

I could totally picture Park in my head as I was reading, and this guy isn't quite perfect, but he is half-Korean and very cute, so...he'll do.

Relationship Status: Going To The Chapel

My only problem with this book was that I finished it. And I knew I wanted to keep in my life, always. This book has the power to help me or hurt me, and I know that over the course of our lifetime, it will probably do both. But I'm okay with that, because I'm in this for keeps.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my review copy from St. Martin's Griffin. Eleanor & Park is available now.