Book Review: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Title: Eleanor & ParkElenor and Park Review

Author: Rainbow Rowell

Series/Standalone?: Standalone

Genre: Romance

Yes, I’ll admit it, despite that we’re taught to “never judge a book by its cover” from pretty much the day we are born, I did exactly that with this particular novel. I am often left disappointed and disgruntled at how deceiving a book cover is as it usually disguises terrible writing and a drab narrative. In this instance however, the charm and beauty that is so appealing on the cover reflects that of its writing and characters in Rainbow Rowell’s gorgeous and heart-breaking story of first love in Eleanor and Park. I’m astonished at how intense the novel actually is, something I had not anticipated it to be. When I bought this I felt I was just buying yet another typical YA romance. How wrong I was.

Eleanor is the new girl in school, shunned by the other pupils for her odd appearance. She meets Park when he reluctantly allows her to sit next to him and a friendship soon develops from a love of comic books and music.

One of the defining characteristics in Rowell’s debut novel is its realism. The characters are not described as models; instead, they are rather ordinary which certainly makes them much more relatable. Realist issues that are brought up include broken or abusive homes to race and the novel, surprisingly, highlights the impact domestic abuse can have on a child. Although this is clearly a very adult theme, I’m very impressed by the way Rowel handles it and brings this difficult topic to the fore. Additionally, class boundaries is another theme that is apparent within the novel and Rowell effectively juxtaposes Park’s loving middle class family to Elenor’s broken and tragic home life. Another issue that is also touched upon is racial matters as Park is depicted as half Korean. However, at times this topic seems merely glossed upon and it would have been nice if this was developed further.

Although I’ve raved about how Rowell has managed to effectively handle adult themes, there is one aspect in which she falls short in; the romance. Yes, to begin with, the romance between our two protagonists is sweet, naive and raw, making me smile throughout. However, by the end of the novel, Rowell seems to have fallen back on the “Romeo and Juliet” type complex many writers fall victim to. It is here that the characters are less developed which is disappointing in a novel that has so much promise in comparison to its contemporaries

That being said, I found I was grinning from ear to ear at times and at other times frowning and feeling heartbroken and this is definitely one to read to be reminded of what a decent YA book can be.

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