Park is half-Korean and barely escapes bullying at school. Eleanor is the new girl, overweight and red-haired and oddly dressed, the target of bullying – and she sits next to Park on the school bus. The year is 1986. The friendship, and later romance, is unlikely, and destined to be ripped apart.
So here’s the deal with this book. When it came out, everyone was talking about it. Everyone. People were posting pictures of the back-and-forth sections, alternating Park’s and Eleanor’s views, and talking about how much they loved it. Everyone said it was a real weeper. And me? I didn’t think this was my kind of book. It’s grounded in the 80s, one of my least favorite decades. No one said anything about anything except the romance, which seemed a little dull if that was the entirety of the book. And I’m not a huge fan of rapidly-alternating sections in general, and that’s all anyone was posting in terms of pictures. Everything about Eleanor & Park screamed “not-Amanda!!!!!”
Then I read a really good writing pep talk by Rainbow Rowell, centering on her novel Fangirl. Then I read Fangirl, and adored it. Then I read Attachments, and liked it. Then I read Landline, and was blown away. And if all three of Rowell’s other books were either good to excellent, I knew I was going to have to dig past my barriers to try E&P.
Verdict: I put this in the same category as Attachments – good but not great. The romance was a little overdone for me, and I would have preferred for Park and Eleanor to have become friends-only (and that’s coming from someone who loves love stories in general!). The other characters seemed a bit underdeveloped. I would have loved some furthering of Eleanor’s family life, and Park’s family life, and especially of the whole Park-eyeliner plot. I did not cry, or ever even feel like crying, and I didn’t fall in love with the story.
But. It certainly captured my attention, and had me reading all the way through nonstop. I did love both Eleanor and Park, and thought they were very good round characters who were not always entirely good people. I thought the portrayal of Eleanor’s family was amazing and horrifying and realistic all at once. I thought Rowell captured the timbre of poverty and bullying and trauma well. I thought her main characters opened up and grew as the story went along.
In the end, I’m glad this wasn’t my first experience with Rowell, because I probably wouldn’t have gone on to read her other amazing books. At the same time, I’m glad I read it, too, because it makes me appreciate her evolution as a writer. Plus it was a fun, cute story, even if it won’t become one of my favorites.