Eleanor and Park
by Rainbow Rowell
reviewed by Lauren Risha
For hundreds of years, civilization has strived to become better and better. The goal of almost any scientific researcher, esteemed politician, or iconic musician was and still is to impact our world in some way that will eventually improve it. I personality have always looked up to these various people and asked myself how they can rise above everyone else. The answer is simple; they are not afraid to be different. The Einsteins of the world don’t publish theories by spending their time re-arranging themselves into the common mold of society, but by building their own mold.
Difference is neither shameful nor strange, but rather something to be proud of. Rainbow Rowell strongly express this idea in her heart-softening novel Eleanor and Park. Rowell tells the story of a Korean-American teenage boy, Park, living with his family in suburban Nebraska. From the start, Park knows he doesn’t fit in; not only is he the only non-Caucasian boy at his school, but his interests strongly differ from those of his peers. But then enter Eleanor; a curvy, fire-red-headed girl dressed in unflattering men’s clothes—not the type of girl society would call attractive. The first time Eleanor trudged down the bus aisle, Park immediately has compassion for her and offered her a seat. Throughout the next months, Eleanor and Park begin to get to know each other and discover that their differences make them quite similar. As the two start to fall in love, Eleanor reveals more to Park about her abusive father and tough home life, and Park reveals his difficulty fitting in to her as well. Soon after holding hands for the first time, the couple becomes more and more comfortable with not only each other, but also with themselves. They commence on a journey of ups, downs, and obstacles that change them and their relationship in unexpected ways.
The story of these two unconventional lovers was extremely refreshing in straying away from the classic pretty girl meets pretty boy romance novel archetype. The novel broke down the barriers that separated “different” people from “normal”, showing that just because you aren’t like everyone else, doesn’t mean you can’t be happy. Personally, the two characters’ bond over music helped me relate to the book; I also found Eleanor’s character really relatable, as she experiences body image issues that most teenagers face during high school. Rowell does excellent job writing through two different viewpoints; this style really helped me to understand both parts of the story and how they relate. I know anyone who enjoys impactful, non-stereotypical romance stories would benefit from this gripping read.
Eleanor and Park taught me that differences are what bring humans together and what make life so interesting. It made me think about the ways I hid my differences; because of this book, I stopped confining to everyone else and started to step out of that “mold”. I hope more and more people will embrace this message of acceptance and begin to see themselves and others in a whole new light.