Eleanor & Park is one of those books that kept making me think this is nothing like my life, and yet it’s exactly like my life. So even if your high school years were filled with unrequited love and bad music like mine were (I owned every Jessica Simpson album at the time) you’ll still find yourself nodding along as Rowell tells you the story of two teenagers trying to fit in, and realizing that fitting in is an illusion.
There are a number of reasons to love this book, but I was sold on the cover alone. Red headed girl? Sign me up. While Eleanor’s unwieldy red hair does get some well-deserved page space, there’s so much more to admire. For instance, the way Rowell doesn’t rush the relationship between Eleanor and Park, but instead allows it to grow organically, the way a real relationship often does. Although the reader is immediately thrown into the middle of Park’s heartache at the beginning of the book, we’re quickly taken back to when the two see each other on the bus for the first time, and the author lets the story unfold from there. I appreciate that Rowell trusts her reader to stick with the characters as they move through the painfully awkward obstacles of high school dating.
In addition to the well-paced plot structure the book is also structured through the dual narratives of Eleanor and Park. This is an effective choice because the reader can get both Eleanor and Park's unique take on a shared moment, as well as gaining insight into their personal lives and the moments they don't share.
Also of note is the ensemble cast, consisting mainly of Eleanor and Park’s families and peers. Each character is fully developed, and I have to say that Park’s mom, Mindy, is one of my favorite fictional characters that I’ve come across in a long while. Furthermore, the fact that I found myself clenching my teeth during the scenes with Eleanor’s stepdad also demonstrates that Rowell knows how to write a good asshole, which is as important a literary skill as any I’ve ever known.
Rowell also knows how to create atmosphere, setting the plot against the neon landscape of the 1980s with references to The Smiths, walkmans, waterbeds, and even Matlock. Growing up in the weird spillover period where the 90s still felt like the 80s, Rowell’s descriptions instantly triggered sense memory after sense memory for me. With my Northwest Indiana roots, I could also bask in the Middle Americanness of Omaha, Nebraska. In many ways I was reminded of Joe Meno and the way that it’s often the simplest of scenarios that are inevitably the most complicated and therefore have the most heart.
So suffice it to say that I highly recommend Eleanor & Park. I’m looking forward to reading Rowell’s other books Attachments and Fangirl, as well as her forthcoming novel, Landline due in 2014. You can also follow her on Twitter and Tumblr. Her tweets and posts are often self-deprecating, and always humorous and insightful. What’s not to like?
Oh, also, I was watching a Youtube video of Rowell and she referred to Attachments, which is written as a series of emails, as an “E-pistolary” novel. So basically I want Rainbow Rowell to be my new best friend.