After a good deal of thought, and after checking everyone would be happy to read some young adult fiction, S from my book club chose this book. This is one of the reasons I love my book club so much, I so often seem to end up reading things I would never have otherwise come across. I’d never even heard of Rainbow Rowel before, but I grabbed a copy of Elanor & Park for my Kindle and got stuck in.
Let me start by saying that whether you already like YA fiction, or if you’ve not read any but you’d to, this is a book you’re bound to enjoy. I don’t read much YA, more because I wouldn’t know where to start when choosing a book than for any other reason, and I loved this story.
It’s a classic high school boy meets girl romance. Eleanor and Park are both misfits, but as the new girl in school, Eleanor suffers for it far more than Park does. He is horrified when on the first day, this new weird girl takes the only empty seat on the school bus, the one next to him, and he studiously ignores her for as long as he can. She is just as mortified by the situation and behaves in a similar way.
Of course, things don’t stay that way for long and a romance slowly, tentatively, haltingly and above all teenage-style-awkwardly, blossoms. We steadily learn about Eleanor’s family life and get increasingly worried about her, as does Park. We steadily learn about Park’s almost perfect-seeming family and (maybe?) get a little jealous of him, as does Eleanor.
As the story progresses I really really started rooting for Eleanor. I found myself feeling protective of her and when there’s an encounter between Park and Eleanor’s mother’s boyfriend late in the book I really want it to go worse for the boyfriend than it does (don’t worry, no spoilers). By comparison, I find the nasty teenage girls at Eleanor’s school easier to forgive, but my goodness, reading about them brought back some less-than fun memories about growing up and being the weird kid.
I think that’s one of the reasons the book does so well. As I read about the characters I empathised with them so hard. Whether the characteristics were those of Eleanor, Park or any of the other kids, I remembered sometimes feeling the way they felt, or remembered kids in my school doing exactly the kinds of things that these kids did. Those feelings are too easy to forget as an adult and I think there’s a value to being reminded.
On the same note, Eleanor’s English teacher asks the class why Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet remains so popular after such a long and Eleanor suggests that it’s because people like to remember what it’s like to be young and in love. I don’t know if I agree with Eleanor on that one, but this book certainly does a good job of reminding you of awkward, if sweet, teenage crushes, and those first few relationships. If you can remember those without feeling a slight tugging at the heartstrings then you’re a stronger person than me. Or possibly dead inside. I don’t want to judge.