Eleanor and Park has gained attention this past year, as has Fangirl for its accurate and geek influenced portrayal of young adult life. In just a short time, they have made a name for Rainbow Rowell in the world of YA lit.
Set in 1986 Eleanor and Park is a cute, sweet tale of new girl Eleanor and Park, the half-Asian boy who befriends her. Eleanor has just moved to the neighborhood and begins her sophomore year as the new girl and outcast. She’s got long red hair, dresses weird, and is overweight. This makes her the subject of teasing from the cool kids on the bus. But Park offers her the empty seat next to him, and after a few weeks of not saying anything to one another he realizes that she is reading his comics along with him. A slow friendship forms as he allows her to read with him, and then brings her some of his old comics to read, and even makes her mix tapes (in my day it was mix CDs) to listen to.
Slowly, the friendship blossoms and they become boyfriend and girlfriend. Park’s family welcomes her with open arms, something she wasn’t expecting. But while Park’s family and home life is full of love and support, Eleanor’s is far from it. Eleanor lives in constant fear of her step-father finding out about her relationship with Park, of his drunkenness and abuse, of not having food to eat or even a toothbrush. Her life is heartbreaking, and a striking contrast to Park’s.
The book is full of references to the time: Fraggle Rock (I loved that show!), Back to the Future (88 MPH!), Kung Fu, Star Wars (Yea!), and many others. While I was afraid the book would have an unhappy or tragic ending, it was actually hopeful. Hope is a powerful emotion that gives us strength and is a far better note to end on. To quote another popular YA book “The only thing more powerful than fear is hope.”
I really loved this one and can’t wait to read Fangirl and see what else Rowell comes up with. I give it Four Lightsabers.