Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
by Channler Twyman
Like any other 20-year-old bibliophile who was miserable staying at home over the summer for the second year in a row, I decided to escape the futility of my living situation by reading a new book. While I was perusing through Target’s minimal collection of young adult literature, I happened to find three books by the same author, Rainbow Rowell. All of them looked extremely intriguing and it was hard to pick just one, but within two weeks I had managed to read them all. Each was as captivating as the last. Rowell is easily one of our generation’s best young adult novelists, and personally my favorite.
Seriously. I don’t think you can consider yourself a true fan of the young adult genre if you haven’t read one of her books. The woman has a way with words. It does not matter which order you read them in (although I do recommend reading Fangirl before you read Carry On but both are still great) just be blown away by the woman’s work! Eleanor and Park was the last book I read by her. It's Rowell's most-acclaimed story, so I decided to save the best for last and I certainly wasn't let down.
Eleanor and Park is one of those stories that truly captures you in its world. Admittedly it was slow to start for me because it is set in the eighties, and I am always skeptical of “period” works in YA books, but after about three chapters I found myself lost in the narratives. The book follows two characters, Eleanor Douglas and Park Sheridan, high-schoolers growing up in the Midwest. What makes this story so special to me is that these characters are not what many people would call conventionally “attractive," especially when considering the historical context. Park is half-Asian, but looks more Asian than white with slanted eyes and a smaller figure, while Eleanor is a plus-sized girl with curly, frizzy red hair.
Without a doubt, the best thing about Rowell's writing are her characters. She writes extremely realistic characters and is able to capture who they are on a microscopic level, exploring their points of views, the way they dress, the things they like, and the way they both physically carry themselves. Eleanor and Park are hyper-aware of how society sees them. Both are wrought with insecurities, seen even in their relationship with one another, and the book does not end with either one of them fully conquering their self-doubts, but rather learning to be okay with who they are because each loves the other unconditionally.
Eleanor and Park is a radical love story. It is about the paths that we all take of learning to love and learning to accept love even when we don’t think we deserve it. Eleanor and Park decided to love one another even when the world said that they were not beautiful enough to receive it. The relationship was radical in a number of ways because it was interracial, and subverted heteronormative ideals. The novel also hones in on race, fat-shaming, and abuse. I consider a good love story one, where those involved in the romantic escapades manage to create something bigger than themselves. That they create a love that saves lives, and instills happiness in the people around them. They create love that changes societies and belief systems. Eleanor and Park surpassed those expectations for me.
I hope you all enjoyed my review! I hope you all pick up this book, or anything else by Rainbow Rowell. I hope it makes you yearn for a revolutionary and world-shaking type of love.
— Channler Twyman is a writer who hails from South Georgia where his love for literature began at the age of two. He currently attends the College of Wooster where he continues to foster his craft. Although, he has a passion for the literary arts, he still hopes for the day where he achieves his final form and is able to battle the forces of evil as a Sailor Scout.