Eleanor and Park delivers a tender and real story

Elise Sommers, Editor in Chief

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“Eleanor and Park” tells the compelling, heartbreaking story of two teens falling in love. I know what you’re thinking: crazy kids, star crossed lovers, you’ve read it before. What differentiates this book is the incredible, down-to-earth reality of both the main characters.

For a book set in 1986, it maintains surprising relevance to today. Eleanor just moved to a new school, back in with her mom and abusive stepdad. Park just tried to fly beneath the radar. They were not supposed to happen, but a tender love grew out of comic books, bus rides, and joining against insecurity. In the face of bullies at home and at school, they slowly learned to trust each other.

The characters were the most compelling aspect of the novel. The plot was fairly basic, the people were anything but. I felt connected to both Eleanor and Park through their self-doubts. Eleanor was constantly insecure about her body, her low self esteem was a real impediment to being able to trust others. Park’s insecurities about fitting in and maintaining the status quo hurt him in very real ways over and over.

Too often, authors make their character’s “weakness” insignificant, or a disguised strength. Harry Potter cared too much about his friends, while Percy Jackson was too selfless. I don’t know any real person with these flaws. The author, Rainbow Rowell, wrote true people, whose flaws stuck throughout the book. Watching them wrestle with their issues made me root for them to succeed, and hold my breath worrying that they wouldn’t.

While the characters had flaws, they were a product of their environment and situation. We’ve all read the so-called ‘issue books,’ where it’s obvious that the author sat down to write a book with the sole purpose of discussing a social problem. They are well intentioned. They are occasionally informative. They are also so very dull.

Painfully real issues of domestic violence, immigration, bullying, abuse, and poverty were confronted with grace, humor, and heart. Rowell avoided the issue book pitfall simply by telling the story first. The author’s priority was always getting the character’s voice into the world, not sending a message.

“Eleanor and Park” flew to the top ten New York Times Bestseller List for Young Adults. People loved it because it discussed body image and poverty. People loved it because the writing crackles with emotion and energy. But the real reason “Eleanor and Park” is a must read is that it will make you laugh and cry and it will melt your heart.

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