Young love is often stereotyped in literature as clichéd and unrealistic, with only a few YA fictions emerging as iconic works of art. Eleanor & Park is one of those few. Rainbow Rowell’s first foray into the young adult literature, Eleanor & Park, established her as the empress of the genre. The story is essentially one of love in a world that is both cruel and demanding. Eleanor is a big, redhead girl who was kicked out of her home by her abusive and alcoholic step-father and is forced to live with unwilling acquaintances. She’s finally back home, a dysfunctional and poor one at that, but home nonetheless, and has to attend a new school. On the bus, she meets and sits next to Park, a 16-year-old half-Korean living under the stifling shadow of his veteran father. The book is about their topsy-turvy lives and the love that they develop for each other.
The author has conjured up two beautiful and well-written characters with very different lives but with trials and tribulations of their own. The description of Eleanor’s penurious life in constant fear of a cruel step-father is gut-wrenching. Park’s own struggle to come out of the shadow of a strict father who frowns upon anything that he doesn’t consider “manly” brings up the important issue of gender stereotypes. However, the most significant part of the book is how both of them found love and acceptance in each other. Rowell’s magical words hit one right where it hurts and leave them breathless. The way the two protagonists talk about each other stir a feeling in the reader’s gut that only a true fan-girl (or fan-boy!) could recognize.
“She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice, it was supposed to make you feel something.”
“Holding Eleanor’s hand was like holding something complete & completely alive.”
“I love your name. I don’t want to cheat myself out of a single syllable.”
Rowell has mastered all three elements of a good story in this phenomenal book: narrative, dialogue and description. She has artfully balanced the beauty of language with the unencumbered banter characteristic of teenagers. Her ability to portray a love so intense with such simplistic grace is unparalleled. Apart from the protagonists, the author has painted a colorful and well-delineated character cast.
We often see fandoms emerging for long book series concerning the fantastic or the supernatural, but seldom do we see it multiplying for a simple love story. However, Rainbow Rowell possesses that power over the reading public. Her portrayal of young love would make any grown-up’s heart skip a beat.
The brilliantly portrayed plot, well-written characters and the alluring language of this book warrants a 3.5 out of 5. One of the few blemishes in this otherwise beautiful piece of literature is the slightly unrealistic parameters of love that seem a little hurried along the way. But other than that, the love between Eleanor & Park is worthy of immortality. If you are looking for an atypical love story, this book will not let you down.