I’ve heard nothing but good things about Rainbow Rowell but I tried her adult novel Landline a few years ago and couldn’t see what the fuss was about. I’m so glad to say I finally get it. Eleanor and Park was such a touching tale of love between two high school misfits, it was impossible not to enjoy and I whizzed through it in just a couple of days.
A modern day high school Romeo and Juliet, Eleanor and Park meet on the bus to school. They’re both from very different backgrounds; Park lives in a nice house with his parents who are still very much in love, whilst in Eleanor’s house there is never quite enough to go around – she doesn’t even have a toothbrush. But her financial problems pale in comparison with her abusive stepdad.
Park struggles being a half Korean kid in a predominantly white neighbourhood, but he grew up in town and he gets by just fine with his friends on the edge of the ‘cool’ crowd. When Eleanor turns up on the schoolbus, with her wild red hair and bizarre clothes, he thinks she’s a disaster waiting to happen. He can’t understand why anyone would draw attention to themselves that way, when he’s spent so much of his life keeping his head down and trying to fit in.
Eleanor and Park shouldn’t work together, and they begin their bus journeys together in awkward silence. But slowly, things begin to change, and after bonding over comic books and music, the floodgates begin to open – suddenly they can’t stop talking and they begin to realise their feelings for each other.
There’s a lot of stories out there like Eleanor and Park, but I think the reason that this one in particular has received so much love over the years is the characters. They’re so well-drawn and unique – you almost couldn’t make them up. Rowell uses a dual narrative so that the reader gets an insight into both of their minds and lives during their budding romance and it works so well as she explores all those teenage insecurities and the overwhelming nature of young love. Yes, it’s a tiny bit over-the-top at times, but I can accept it because the characters are young. Whilst there is some darker threads to this story, the overwhelming message is definitely one of hope. It’s heartwarming, and I’m so glad I read this YA romance in time for Valentine’s Day.