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Eleanor & Park by R. Rowell

Rowell, Rainbow. Eleanor & Park.  New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 2013. Print.

“Disintegrated. Like something had gone wrong beaming her onto the Starship Enterprise. If you’ve ever wondered what that feels like, it’s a lot like melting, but more violent. Even in a million different pieces, Eleanor could still feel Park holding her hand. Could still feel his thumb exploring her palm. She sat completely still because she didn’t have any other option.  She tried to remember what kind of animals paralyzed their prey before they ate them...Maybe Park had paralyzed her with his ninja magic, his Vulcan handhold, and now he was going to eat her. That would be awesome” (p. 72).

Eleanor & Park is a smart, funny young adult romance that takes place over one school year in 1986. Told in alternating voices, this is the story of two teenagers who don’t quite fit in. Eleanor comes from the wrong side of the tracks and has big red hair and wears all the wrong clothes. Park is half Asian, loves comic books and alternative music.  

Eleanor has had a rough life, living with her mother, her mother’s new husband, and her four siblings in a rundown house without even a door on the bathroom. Park’s family is much more stable, yet his military veteran father and immigrant mother do not quite know what to make of Park, with his black clothes, eye makeup and love of music. Pushed together on Eleanor’s first day of school when she takes the only seat left on the bus, the one beside Park, they bond over comic books and mixed tapes and help each other survive the tumult that is high school, and life.  

The characters, young and old, in Eleanor & Park are far from perfect, and their imperfections and weirdness make them likeable. Young adult readers will identify with these outsiders and will be cheering for them from the beginning. Some of the pop culture references may not be recognized by today’s young adults; however, the specific music and comic book references are less important than what they represent in the story. Rowell has written a nuanced and balanced story that will appeal to young adult fans of realistic and romantic fiction.  The ending is satisfying without being easy and Rowell has created characters that are believable and heartwarming.  

Eleanor & Park won the 2013 Boston Globe Horn Book Award for Best Fiction Book.  Rainbow Rowell is the author of Attachments (2011) and the recently released Fangirl (2013).  The book contains some scenes with some mild sexuality, violence, and language. It will make an excellent addition to any school or public library collection for young adult readers ages 14 and up.

Highly Recommended:  4 out of 4 stars
Reviewed by: Joanne de Groot

Joanne de Groot is a teacher, librarian and mom who loves to read children's literature (especially with her two kids!).  She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Elementary Education at the University of Alberta and teaches primarily in the Teacher-Librarianship by Distance Learning program.  Joanne teaches courses on resources for children and young adults, children's literature, educational technology and Web 2.0, and contemporary literacies.