Novel Idea: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

A coming-of-age romance that exceeded my expectations

The cover of Eleanor and Park uses simple artwork to illustrate the characters.

Hailey Ardell

The cover of Eleanor and Park uses simple artwork to illustrate the characters.

Hailey Ardell, Columnist

I’ll be honest and admit that I mostly steer clear of reading romances. I know that many people enjoy reading them, but books in this genre just isn’t generally my cup of tea.  Despite this, I had read Fangirl, another book by this author, a few years ago and loved it, so I decided to give this book a shot. I’m certainly glad that I did.

Rainbow Rowell’s novel, set in the 1980s in Omaha, Nebraska, is centered on the growing relationship between two sixteen-year-olds, Eleanor and Park. Eleanor is the new girl at school with a style and personality quite different from her classmates, while Park is a bit of an outsider who gets along with most people, but has few true friends. The two are initially indifferent to one another, but begin to bond over shared interests in comic books and music on the bus ride to and from school. Together, the two of them do their best to overcome school and home life troubles while trying to see if first love really can last.

Several important real-life issues are discussed throughout the novel. Park is half-Korean and therefore has to cope with the stereotypes and prejudices that can be practically inevitable in a city with few other Asian-American families. Eleanor has a stepfather that is both emotionally and physically abusive to her mother, forcing Eleanor and her siblings to live in near-constant worry for their safety. Eleanor also deals with the bullying and taunts of her classmates for being overweight, a major shift from the common “skinny girl with perfect hair” cliché often found in this genre. The title characters cope with these issues while keeping a generally hopeful attitude, even when things look pretty bleak.

Overall, Rainbow Rowell has managed to create an interesting coming-of-age/first-love story. There is a good mix of lighthearted and serious moments throughout the novel that keep the reader engaged. The characters are realistically flawed and likable both despite and because of these flaws. Despite my original assumptions, this novel was a very enjoyable read. Well done, Ms. Rowell, you’ve convinced a skeptic.