Reviews for Eleanor & Park

Booklist Reviews 2013 January #1
*Starred Review* Right from the start of this tender debut, readers can almost hear the clock winding down on Eleanor and Park. After a less than auspicious start, the pair quietly builds a relationship while riding the bus to school every day, wordlessly sharing comics and eventually music on the commute. Their worlds couldn't be more different. Park's family is idyllic: his Vietnam vet father and Korean immigrant mother are genuinely loving. Meanwhile, Eleanor and her younger siblings live in poverty under the constant threat of Richie, their abusive and controlling stepfather, while their mother inexplicably caters to his whims. The couple's personal battles are also dark mirror images. Park struggles with the realities of falling for the school outcast; in one of the more subtle explorations of race and the other in recent YA fiction, he clashes with his father over the definition of manhood. Eleanor's fight is much more external, learning to trust her feelings about Park and navigating the sexual threat in Richie's watchful gaze. In rapidly alternating narrative voices, Eleanor and Park try to express their all-consuming love. You make me feel like a cannibal, Eleanor says. The pure, fear-laced, yet steadily maturing relationship they develop is urgent, moving, and, of course, heartbreaking, too. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

BookPage Reviews 2013 March
Young love and fortune's fools

Romeo and Juliet is often the first Shakespearean play students read, partially because it’s one of his easier works to grasp (though your average eighth grader may find that hard to believe), but also because the star-crossed lovers are so young: Juliet is 13, and Romeo is not much older. But can young readers really get it?

Author Rainbow Rowell, former newspaper columnist and current copywriter for a design firm in Omaha, wasn’t a romantic as a teenager. “I think probably my path has been to become more of a romantic,” Rowell laughs. However, she still believes that every young love story is a variation of Romeo and Juliet.

“When you’re that age,” Rowell tells me over the phone in soft, measured words, “you have maybe the greatest capacity [for love]. You feel love with your whole body. You can be consumed by it in a way that you’re not when you’re older, and yet you don’t have anything to offer the other person. You don’t even belong to yourself yet. . . . You can’t make any promises.”

So why would Rowell write a love story—such as her new novel, ­Eleanor & Park, the story of two teen misfits falling in love in 1986—if she believes young love is destined for heartbreak? A different question is posed in Eleanor and Park’s English class, but the answer is the same: “Why has Romeo and Juliet survived for four hundred years?” Skeptical, ferocious Eleanor dismisses the play as “Shakespeare making fun of love,” but Park ventures a guess: “Because people want to remember what it’s like to be young? And in love?”

Eleanor is the new girl at school, and her shock of red hair and weird clothes make her an easy target for her classmates’ derision. Park is a Korean-American punk rocker who offers her a seat on the bus—albeit scornfully, at first. Aided by comic books and ’80s mix tapes, the two begin to bond. Revealed through segments written from alternating perspectives, their tenuous friendship explodes into a first love that is romantic but never romanticized, complete with awkward moments and misconceptions. The interchanging voices expose Eleanor and Park’s intimate, raw emotions.

Their love doesn’t defy stars or make the moon envious. It is reticent and tentative, but also immersive and thrilling—and therefore heartbreakingly familiar. “True love can conquer all,” says Rowell. “I do think they’re truly in love. That’s the tragedy of being them. They’re too young. They don’t have anything.”

The breathless first moments of love, such as the tenderness of holding hands for the first time, have a submerging effect on the reader. These moments often go on for several pages, conveying all the precious flutters of a “first.”

“The first time I held someone’s hand, it was like stars going off. Not stars—bombs, maybe,” Rowell says. “I’m not going to speed past these feelings. I’m going to let these two characters really think about them the way you do when they happen to you. You’re not just like, ‘Oh, he held my hand,’ and then you move on. In the moment, you’re dazed. You’re reeling.”

Eleanor and Park come from starkly different backgrounds, but their respective concepts of relationships are greatly influenced by the adult world around them. Eleanor’s cynicism, in a reflection of Rowell’s own difficult childhood, stems from a terrifying home life, where love is temporary and the threat of her stepfather steadily darkens as the narrative progresses. Park, on the other hand, is overwhelmed and intimidated by the intensity of his parents’ love.

“As a teenager, you kind of want your parents’ relationship to be invisible,” says Rowell. “You want your parents to move into the background—like it’s your turn.”

Rowell wishes she had “had something that intense at that age,” but her own love story warrants mentioning. In seventh grade, during her “yucky years” with a bad stepdad, she found refuge in a group of “nerdy guys” who played Dungeons & Dragons and loved comic books, guys who helped shape the character of Park. One of them ended up becoming her husband after they graduated from college; they’ve been married now for 14 years and have two boys, ages 4 and 8.

“I believe really strongly that men are good,” Rowell says. “There are men who want love and who care and are sensitive to the same degree as women, just differently. . . . I hope when girls read [this novel], they believe that there are guys like Park out there.”

Eleanor & Park, much like Romeo and Juliet, should be read twice: once in youth, before that first love, and again after experiencing love’s ability to transform and consume. After all, as Rowell says, “You get beginnings when you’re 17, not endings.” It is that same optimistic spirit that suffuses Eleanor & Park and makes it a celebration of all the joys and sorrows of young love.

Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2013 Fall
It's the start of a new school year in 1986 Omaha when sophomores Eleanor and Park meet on the bus. She's an ostracized "big girl"; he's a skinny half-Korean townie who tries to stay out of the spotlight. Their slowly evolving relationship is life-changing for them both. Rowell imbues the novel with rich character development for a heart-wrenching portrayal of imperfect but unforgettable love

Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2013 #3
It's the start of a new school year in 1986 Omaha when sophomores Eleanor and Park meet for the first time on the bus. They are an unusual pair: she's the new girl in town, an ostracized, bullied "big girl" with bright red curly hair, freckles, and an odd wardrobe; he's a skinny half-Korean townie who mostly wears black and tries to stay out of the spotlight. But as they sit together on the school bus every day, an intimacy gradually develops between them. At first they don't talk; then she reads his comics with him; he makes her mixtapes of his favorite rock bands; they hold hands; and eventually they are looking for ways to spend every waking hour together. Their slowly evolving but intense relationship is chaste first love, authentic in its awkwardness -- full of insecurities, miscommunications, and sexual awakenings -- and life-changing for them both. When Eleanor's unstable home life (replete with abusive stepfather) ultimately tears the young lovers apart, the novel ends realistically: uncertain, yet still hopeful. Rowell presents her teen protagonists' intelligent observations, extreme inner desires, and irrational feelings through compelling alternating narrations. She imbues the novel with rich character development, a spot-on depiction of the 1980s, and powerful descriptive passages ("Holding Eleanor's hand was like holding a butterfly. Or a heartbeat. Like holding something complete, and completely alive"). It's an honest, heart-wrenching portrayal of imperfect but unforgettable love. cynthia k. ritter

Kirkus Reviews 2012 December #2
Awkward, prickly teens find deep first love in 1980s Omaha. Eleanor and Park don't meet cute; they meet vexed on the school bus, trapped into sitting together by a dearth of seats and their low social status. Park, the only half-Korean fan of punk and New Wave at their high school, is by no means popular, but he benefits from his family's deep roots in their lower-middle-class neighborhood. Meanwhile, Eleanor's wildly curly red mane and plus-sized frame would make her stand out even if she weren't a new student, having just returned to her family after a year of couch-surfing following being thrown out by her odious drunkard of a stepfather, Richie. Although both teens want only to fade into the background, both stand out physically and sartorially, arming themselves with band T-shirts (Park) and menswear from thrift stores (Eleanor). Despite Eleanor's resolve not to grow attached to anything, and despite their shared hatred for clichs, they fall, by degrees, in love. Through Eleanor and Park's alternating voices, readers glimpse the swoon-inducing, often hilarious aspects of first love, as well as the contrast between Eleanor's survival of grim, abuse-plagued poverty and Park's own imperfect but loving family life. Funny, hopeful, foulmouthed, sexy and tear-jerking, this winning romance will captivate teen and adult readers alike. (Fiction. 14 & up) Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 December #2

Half-Korean sophomore Park Sheridan is getting through high school by lying low, listening to the Smiths (it's 1986), reading Alan Moore's Watchmen comics, never raising his hand in class, and avoiding the kids he grew up with. Then new girl Eleanor gets on the bus. Tall, with bright red hair and a dress code all her own, she's an instant target. Too nice not to let her sit next to him, Park is alternately resentful and guilty for not being kinder to her. When he realizes she's reading his comics over his shoulder, a silent friendship is born. And slowly, tantalizingly, something more. Adult author Rowell (Attachments), making her YA debut, has a gift for showing what Eleanor and Park, who tell the story in alternating segments, like and admire about each other. Their love is believable and thrilling, but it isn't simple: Eleanor's family is broke, and her stepfather abuses her mother. When the situation turns dangerous, Rowell keeps things surprising, and the solution--imperfect but believable--maintains the novel's delicate balance of light and dark. Ages 13-up. Agent: Christopher Schelling, Selectric Artists. (Mar.)

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School Library Journal Reviews 2013 February

Gr 9 Up--In this novel set in the 1980s, teenagers Eleanor and Park are outsiders; Eleanor, because she's new to the neighborhood, and Park, because he's half Asian. Although initially wary of each other, they quickly bond over their love of comics and 1980s alternative music. Eleanor's home life is difficult; her stepfather physically abuses her mother and emotionally abuses Eleanor and her siblings. At school, she is the victim of bullying, which escalates into defacement of her textbooks, her clothes, and crude displays on her locker. Although Park's mother, a Korean immigrant, is initially resistant to the strange girl due to her odd fashion choices, his father invites Eleanor to seek temporary refuge with them from her unstable home life. When Eleanor's stepfather's behavior grows even more menacing, Park assists in her escape, even though it means that they might not see each other again. The friendship between the teens is movingly believable, but the love relationship seems a bit rushed and underdeveloped. The revelation about the person behind the defacement of Eleanor's textbooks is stunning. Although the narrative points of view alternate between Eleanor and Park, the transitions are smooth. Crude language is realistic. Purchase for readers who are drawn to quirky love stories or 1980s pop culture.--Jennifer Schultz, Fauquier County Public Library, Warrenton, VA

[Page 113]. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

VOYA Reviews 2012 December
Park sees the new girl at the front of the bus and fills the empty seat next to him with his books. She eventually ends up sitting next to him anyway, after the vicious pack at the back of the bus targets her for their pointed remarks. As the days go by, he notices her reading the comics on his lap--they tentatively ease into conversation which, in time, leads to discovering feelings for each other. Eleanor‘s home life is wretched. She shares a room with her four siblings and the bathroom is in the kitchen with no wall or door. Richie, her mother's abusive, alcoholic husband, had kicked Eleanor out of the house the previous year. She has been allowed to return to the family but has to stay under the radar This is a sweet, touching story of first love. Told from both perspectives, the story's emphasis rests with Eleanor--how she keeps within herself at home but allows Park in as she learns to trust him. Being with Park is Eleanor's only sanctuary yet he is more lyrical when describing their relationship. When he holds her hand, he says it is "like holding a butterfly. Or a heartbeat. Like something complete, and completely alive." When Richie's twisted malevolence toward Eleanor reaches a boiling point, Eleanor knows she has to leave. Can Park let her go? The bittersweet ending hints at hope for two characters who readers will have come to care about. This is a stunning debut from a promising new author.--Deborah Wenk 5Q 4P S  Copyright 2011 Voya Reviews.