[ETA much later: Unfortunately, I, as a white person, missed some seriously racist and problematic stuff in the portrayal of Park, so please take this review with a grain of salt. Or a bag full of salt. Here’s more info on the racism issue.]
Eleanor is a big girl with flaming red hair – people notice her, especially on her first day in a new school. As she gets on the school bus, people stare and refuse to let her sit somewhere. All but Park who is usually busy with trying not to stick out, skirting along the edges of the popular crowd. He lets Eleanor sit, but otherwise ignores her, as much as she can be ignored. It’s only when he realizes that she is reading along with his comic books on the bus that they slowly, carefully start to interact.
I hardly have words for how much I loved Eleanor & Park. It made me laugh and cry and fall in love with reading all over again (which in turn made me spend an unwise amount of money at the bookstore). What more could you possibly ask for in a book?
Both Eleanor and Park are lovely, vibrant characters who practically jumped off the page. Rowell’s writing is so full of observant little details, it feels like they are standing next to you. And they were so freaking cute, both on their own and together, I wanted to squeeze them all the time. Their relationship is ultimate shipping material.
Underneath the fluff and the romance and all that cuteness, though, there is a serious core to the story: Eleanor lives in poverty with an abusive stepfather, she is bullied and she is fat (or at least big). Rowell takes all of these issues seriously and handles them with a lot of sensitivity, but refuses to let Eleanor just be her issues. Just as Rowell includes Park’s Korean heritage as an active part of his life, but it’s far from everything about him either.
When it comes to the ending, that same intelligent sensitivity comes to the fore yet again: It was great. And evil. But mostly great, especially in its combination of hopefulness, romance and love, without naivity, clichés or unrealistic expectations.
There is honestly no fault I can find with this novel – that’s how much I loved it.
Summarizing: I can but rave about Eleanor & Park.