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  • Writer's pictureNakeisha Campbell

Book Review: 'Eleanor & Park' by Rainbow Rowell

Updated: Jul 23, 2020

Two sixteen-year-olds, Eleanor and Park, are outsiders with completely different tastes and backgrounds. But after being forced to sit together during their bus rides to school, their awkward silences turn into friendly conversations. And the more they talk, the more they begin to click and actually enjoy each other’s company.

So before they know it, the two are officially a couple—but it’s not exactly a walk in the park. On top of her awful living arrangements at home, Eleanor struggles to deal with bullying at school. And Park, on top of repeatedly failing to live up to his father’s expectations, struggles to get past his obsession with maintaining a good social status. To make matters even more complicated, the two are barely ever alone. 

Despite these circumstances, they fight to keep this relationship going. But just when things start to get even more serious between them, Eleanor is forced to run away from home. Can their relationship survive such a major change? Eleanor & Park is that book that makes you wish that you were sixteen again and in love. It’s realistic, it’s relatable and it’s raw. I love that it wasn’t another cliché romance where the beauty-queen falls for the devilishly handsome jock, or where the couple ends up living happily ever after. Because with Eleanor and Park, I never knew what to expect. With Eleanor’s constant moodiness and Park’s persistence to get her to open up, I couldn’t even predict if they would stay together by next chapter, but I just loved that feeling of suspense. The fact that their relationship was so strong, and yet malleable enough to change drastically in the blink of an eye was so fascinating to me. Park was clearly the one who drove this relationship forward. I mean, he was the one who initiated their first conversation. He was the one who started to offer up his comic books for her to read. He was the one who fought for Eleanor’s honor and then claimed (out in the open) that Eleanor is his girlfriend. And he was the one who first admitted that he loved Eleanor. He was the one who constantly gave and gave and gave some more, while Eleanor just took and took in exchange for the smallest pieces of herself. A part of me can’t even blame her, because it’s not like she had much to give, and it’s clear that deep down, she was really afraid to give herself to him completely. On top of that, she had to think about keeping Park a secret from her entire family. But even so, I feel like both of them succeeded at showing each other what true love really feels like. They brought out the best in each other and they had the perfect chemistry. But still, I feel like Park took it upon himself to carry 80 percent of the weight in this relationship (which, actually, was perfectly fine with him). Now, if there’s one thing that this novel taught me, it’s that many first impressions can be far from accurate. When I got through the first few pages of the novel, I was immediately annoyed with Park and my heart went out to Eleanor. She was the sweet new girl who embraced her individuality while Park, the miserable loner, worried that Eleanor might destroy what was left of his social status. However, by the time I finished the book, my feelings toward these characters had switched. For instance: Several times, when Park did something incredibly romantic or said something that made my skin tingle, I thought: no, this can’t be the same guy who cursed at Eleanor when they first met. And then when Eleanor started to lash out at Park and get all moody for the most ridiculous reasons, I began to find her incredibly annoying (although I guess she has good reason to act that way, considering her situation at home). Speaking of Eleanor’s situation at home, I wasn’t drawn to a single member in her family. Her mother was helpless, weak and so pathetic. Any mother who gives a man the power to practically tear her family apart, or the power to blatantly disrespect and abuse her is a complete idiot in my book. And the fact that Eleanor’s mom didn’t even try to defend Eleanor when she was thrown out by Richie was just despicable. Although I didn’t necessarily loathe the other siblings as much as I did their mother and Richie, I was not drawn to them in any way. I just didn’t care for any of them because they all seemed so powerless and gullible. A part of me wished that at least one sibling had the guts to stand up to Richie rather than cry and sit huddled in a tiny room. Park’s family was the modern-day Brady Bunch, compared to Eleanor’s family (except with less children). Park’s parents were the most adorable pair—they acted more like high-school sweethearts rather than a married couple with two kids, which was so admirable. Although I actually grew to like the whole family, it was Park’s mom who stuck out to me the most. And it wasn’t due to the fact that she was small, sweet and bubbly all the time, but rather, it was because of how she reacted to seeing Eleanor (El-la-no!) with her family in public. It must’ve brought back memories of her own upbringing in Korea, and it made me think about her childhood, about how similar it might have been to Eleanor’s. It also made me wonder about her own experiences in high school. I wish that she wasn’t so quick to judge Eleanor in the first place, and I wish she wasn’t so hard on Park about her, but I could see that her intentions were good. I came so close to giving this book five stars, but it was the last few chapters that made me chop it down to four. It’s not that I have a problem with the fact that Eleanor and Park had to separate, but the way that those events unfolded was a bit unrealistic. It just felt so rushed, and Eleanor’s escape felt way too easy. A part of me was actually expecting Richie to spot them together in public, to sneak up on them during a make-out session, or to catch up with them on their way to her Uncle’s. I expected things to get so much messier towards the end, but instead, the two lovebirds managed to speed off together peacefully (and with the permission of Park’s dad). Even though it broke my heart to see them part ways, it still felt a lot like a fairy-tale ending because everything went way too smoothly. But all in all, I really enjoyed this book. There were moments that made me blush and even tear-up, I just couldn’t get enough of these two. Eleanor & Park is a must-read for romance lovers!

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