When new girl Eleanor, with her bright red hair and her different clothes sits next to Park on the school bus, the pair slowly begin to bond over comic books and mixtapes. Eleanor and Park is a contemporary young adult novel that follows the relationship between two teenagers, whilst exploring themes of love, family, abuse, bullying, and fitting in.
“Eleanor was right. She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.”
I’ll start this review by saying that even though some of my favourite books are contemporary YA (Fangirl, Turtles All The Way Down, History Is All You Left Me), it’s a genre that I often find hard to connect with. I’m a fantasy girl at heart, and it takes a lot for a romance to sweep me off my feet. And I think that’s probably part of the reason I can’t give this more than 3.5 stars.
There are elements of this book that I really enjoyed. I loved the character of Eleanor: she’s bold and opinionated, yet tender and insecure, which I think is a relatable depiction of what it’s like to be 16/17 years old. I also felt very invested in the story and in her and Park’s relationship by the last 100 pages: this was the best part of the book, and the ending in particular really got me. Another thing I liked is that this book isn’t just a romance; it touches on a lot of other topics, like family, abuse, self-image, and bullying.
“That girl–all of them–hated Eleanor before they’d even laid eyes on her. Like they’d been hired to kill her in a past life.”
Unfortunately, I can’t say that I loved this book. I found the start of Eleanor and Park’s relationship hard to connect with, as it seemed unrealistic and actually kind of uncomfortable, and some of the problems they faced during the book felt frustrating and silly. I’m the kind of person who gets frustrated when a couple’s difficulties stem from miscommunication, and so when this common trope in romance cropped up, I rolled my eyes a little. Having said that, Rowell does a good job of making these miscommunications relevant to the characters: they mainly stem from the characters’ insecurities and anxieties, and actually, this is really relatable.
Like I said, I’m not a romantic, and while this book was cute, it didn’t amaze me.
Overall, I’d say this is a really solid YA contemporary read, made interesting thanks to the character of Eleanor and some of the broader themes. Sadly, I didn’t like Eleanor and Park anywhere near as much as I loved Fangirl, but I’d say it’s worth a read if contemporary YA romance is your thing.
“He tried to remember how this happened—how she went from someone he’d never met to the only one who mattered.”