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Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell


Highlights: Since the novel is set in 1986, the story is dripping with 80's references that make the setting vivid and, for some, nostalgic.
Synopsis: Eleanor and Park is about two high school students who are awkward, outcast, and self-conscious...but manage to find common ground in music and in each other.
Genre: ,


The story is realistic, shows great attention to detail, and is impeccably paced. It's easily among the best YA novels of 2013.


Some readers find the ending problematic.

Posted December 16, 2013 by

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Eleanor thinks she’s fat. She’s got huge, bushy hair and her clothes never quite look right. They are dirty hand-me-downs, and she subverts this by purposefully wearing unfashionable clothing to give the appearance that she does not care. She’s the new girl in school, but she’s finding it hard to make friends. The kids tease her and she lacks self-confidence. This is all quite understandable, because her home life is crap. Her mother’s boyfriend is emotionally, physically, and financially abusive to Eleanor’s whole family. Eleanor has a tough skin because she has a tough life. 

Park is the only Korean kid on the working-class side of town. His parents constantly display their affection in Park’s living room, but they are mostly okay. They push Park and they care about him. Park is the kind of kid who flies under the radar. He’s not cool enough to be in the popular crowd, but he generally escapes being bullied because there is always someone more interesting to bully than him.

And on the school bus, that person is Eleanor.

So she sits with Park.

Eleanor fascinates Park. On one hand, he wants to shake the new girl and tell her to quit being weird. On the other, he can’t stop thinking about her. What starts as an awkward move to share a seat becomes sharing music. Sharing headphones. And, eventually, sharing first love.

What’s beautiful about Eleanor and Park is how well Rainbow Rowell captures the emotions and the awkwardness of first love. Eleanor puts up walls and Park battles insecurities. Park is overly idealistic and Eleanor can’t live in the moment. These two teens are flawed, raw, and perfect in every way.

The story, and the romance, starts out slowly. This is no tale of insta-love. As Rowell builds her characters, she pulls readers in with delightful observations about each step of falling for someone new: the first glance, the first words, the first butterflies, and first kisses. Each step plays out with an incredible attention to detail and realism. Though the story moves slowly, it’s never dull. It never drags. Eleanor and Park may not be a jaw-dropping suspense novel or an action-packed dystopia, but it does keep readers turning pages with appropriate pacing. It’s hard to put down.

Rainbow Rowell is an emerging rockstar in the word of young adult literature. She’s already amassed a huge fandom around her second YA novel to be published this year, FangirlHer adult novel, Attachments, has similarly attracted the attention of young readers, and her forthcoming adult novel, Landline, is already receiving buzz. However, Eleanor and Park is both her strongest novel and the one most likely to be decorated with awards this January when the American Library Association announces their youth media awards, including the Michael L. Printz award. Look for this little gem to be a hot contender for that award.

I’m considering Eleanor and Park to be a Printz contender, and my reviews this winter will cover other books that represent the best of 2013. Have you read Eleanor and Park or any of Rowell’s other books? Share your thoughts in the comments!


Former middle school teacher and school librarian, current doctoral student in education. Reader of all things young adult. I'm particularly fond of dystopian societies, sassy female protagonists, and clever dialogue. I can often be found asleep with a book on my face. Check out all my articles.


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