‘Eleanor & Park’ by Rainbow Rowell

First loves… The eighties… How could I not just want to read this book straight away? (No, it had nothing to do with a certain boy named Robert who broke my heart in 1987. I’m over it, really. Barely remember his name. Truly.)

Set over the course of one school year in 1986, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell is the story of two misfits—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but willing to try.

Eleanor is a red-haired, slightly plump girl who wears ‘alternative’ clothing out of necessity – safety pins and men’s shirts may have been de rigueur for some but Eleanor’s family has little money and are at the mercy of their drunk, abusive step-father. In contrast, Park comes from a hunky-dory-apple-pie-good family. He’s half Korean, half Anglo-American and living in a town where Asian is unusual.

Rowell captures the intensity of first love perfectly – the anticipation, the awkwardness and that particular way that time speeds up and then slows down when your day revolves around moments with another person. Snatched encounters in the corridor, notes in text books and the dissection and analysis of every thing the person says.

I only have one issue with this perfectly lovely YA novel – Park is just a tad too forward for my liking. It’s not how I remembered boys (was I hanging around with the wrong boys? Maybe). I don’t think 16-year-old boys reveal so much so quickly. Are teenagers declaring that they love someone (to their face) before the first kiss? My feeling is no but I’d be happy to be proved wrong (that’s me, mother of three sons and one daughter who are yet to hit their teens talking).

“All I do when we’re apart is think about you, and all I do when we’re together is panic. Because every second feels so important. And because I’m so out of control, I can’t help myself.”

Without question, one of the reasons I picked up this book was because it’s set in the eighties. I don’t read much YA fiction but given that I was a teen in the eighties and I understand the raw power of a mixed tape (and quite frankly, Gen Y and Z will NEVER really understand this) I was keen. Thankfully, Rowell’s references to the pop-decade are careful, measured and thoroughly appropriate – smatterings of Swatch, Solid Gold, Avon and Cabbage Patch Kids are perfect.

“Park couldn’t imagine what his face had looked like when he touched Eleanor. like somebody taking the first drink in a Diet Pepsi commercial. over-the-top bliss.”

3/5 It’s a sweet story with a clever ending – will we hear more from Eleanor and Park? Rowell has certainly left the door ajar.

There are a handful of food references in the book but most are things that sound vile to me – what is a ‘tater-tot casserole’ for goodness sake?! So I’m sticking with the one thing mentioned that can be done well – Huevos Rancheros.

My copy of Eleanor & Park was provided courtesy of St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley.


9 responses

  1. I’ve been waiting for this review as I’ve been very curious about it. I did not realize it was YA. I’ve been very hit or miss with YA lately, everything is always life or death and that is not something I can relate to. I was very mellow as a teenager, of course, I was also reading Stephen King – so I likely have my own set of issues to deal with.

    Being so open/forward and “knowing” your feelings so well is another issue I’ve had lately. It was one of the primary detractors in The Fault in Our Stars for me (though I still liked it). If I see Eleanor & Park around, I’ll give it a try. I did love Cabbage Patch Kids. I looked just like one unfortunately.

    Also, does a mixed CD truly differ from a mixed tape?

    • I’m not a big YA reader so I’m probably a poor judge! I usually read them when there’s hype (like Fault in our Stars and Wonder which, for the record I thought was an amazing book that I think everyone of all ages should read).

      Mixed tapes… VERY different to a mixed CD. For a start there’s great significance in the A side and the B side and song selection for each side. Secondly, it takes great skill to make a mixed tape well – the pause button before you cued up your next song took some working. Thirdly, and most importantly, you listen to a mixed tape all the way through. With CDs and playlists you can easily jump from one track to the next – not so easy with a tape. And so it comes back to song selection and order, carefully arranged from start to finish. Do I sound a little obsessive?!

      I guess I have lots of happy mixed tape memories… Certain boys of course, the tapes played at my 18th birthday (I still have them) and tapes made for me to take on my honeymoon (side A was ‘East Coast’ USA and side B was West Coast songs). Plus I have the tapes made for me by my brother to put in my labour bag when I had my first baby – everyone in the delivery suite cracked up when we put the tape in and it started with ‘When the going gets tough’ by Billy Ocean. Okay, I’ll shut up about mixed tapes now 😉

      • I only have vague memories of tapes. I do, however, remember when Napster was first popular and making mixed CDs were all the rage (and free!). The difference a decade makes…

      • It’s funny but Napster never a thing on my radar (#campold!)I don’t think it was available in Aus to start and I always had a goody-two shoes thing about ‘copies’ of music, films etc…. Does that speak volumes about my generation?! 😉

        My kids think tapes and CDs are curious items… But oddly, because I still have records and use my record player, they’re okay! As you said, what a inference a decade makes.

      • When it first came out, no one really new it was illegal and it was before there was any good way to sell mp3’s.

        And that’s okay, I had to google Rick Astley. No idea who he was…

        Sadly I was a teenager in the ’90’s and the popular music from that era is downright ghastly.

      • Yes, and by the time Australia caught up people knew it was illegal…. The advantage of being slow to catch on?!

        Not sure that Rick Astley was as huge in US as he was in UK and Aus so you’re excused 😉 As I was a teenager in the eighties I got to enjoy the decade in all its questionable glory – the fashion may have been bad (although I still like neon) but the music was ace… And I still listen to my eighties vinyl (Cyndi Lauper, Spandau Ballet, George Michael, early Madonna….)

        By the time the 90s rolled around I was into the pub music scene – ‘independent’ (ie no one has heard of them) bands. Now I’m back to current pop/top 40 because my kids take control of the radio!

  2. Oh! This sounds like such a great book – and when I said historical fiction, I didn’t mean it in a bad way! It was more a way… to make myself feel better for not reading the genre. (: AH. I’m having a hard time writing a good comment because I’m just so excited for this book.

    Great review!!

  3. Pingback: Mixtape | Spring | fourth street review

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