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.