Though aimed primarily at young adults, I can attest as a grizzled thirty-seven year old that I adored every single thing about it.
I don’t want to summarize the book for you, plenty of others have already done so, but I can tell you that though this story may not be new in terms of tone or theme, it is absolutely a page-turner. Rowell delivers two wonderfully developed characters that will, by book’s end, occupy a space in your head and become a part of your existence. Eleanor and Park will make you angry, they will make you laugh, they will make you giddy with delight, and they will destroy your heart, and you will love them for all of it. In other words, they are very much like real people.
Beyond the well-rounded characters, Rowell successfully captured the essence of high school love. She understands the rapture, the awkwardness, the rush, the torment—she understands it all and displays her understanding through Eleanor and Park. Whether or not you experienced high school love, I know you will find something of yourself in both Eleanor and Park.
Furthermore, I believe by alternating points of view between Eleanor and Park, Rowell found a way to hasten the pace of the story, thus creating tension. The emotional honesty, the characterization, and the writing execution is truly what makes this book shine.
And there is quite a bit of emotional honesty. In fact, parts of this book read very autobiographical. Frankly, I don’t care if Rowell based any of the book on her own life. I hope not, of course, because Eleanor goes through a lot of very painful things, but I’d be a fool to think children don’t suffer through the things Eleanor does. If Rowell used her own life as the basis for Eleanor’s, then I say more power to her. If it all came from her own imagination, then I say her empathy is nearly superhuman and it will serve her well with future books—books I’m certain to read.
Though initially a quirky love story not unlike several other young adult novels, Eleanor & Park rocketed past them and entered a space all its own. Funny, provoking, enlightening, and heart-breaking, Eleanor and Park invite you into their lives, and you will be both overjoyed and saddened to have visited.
No matter what your age or reading inclinations, I urge you to give this book a chance.