- Craig Graziano
Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell, is a realistic teenage romance of the highest caliber. Our heroes strive for happiness as misfits against the normalcy of 1986 Omaha, Nebraska.
Eleanor is new at school. She dresses in thrift shop clothes not for trendiness but for economic necessity. Her red hair and overweight frame make her a target for bullying. All of that pales in comparison to what is happening at home...with her stepfather.
Park is good at staying on the fringes of the cool kids’ clique. He likes his comic books and his punk rock records. The only reason he told Eleanor to sit with him on the bus that day was to keep her from embarrassing herself any further.
But something is changing for these two. Their ride each day has them bonding over issues of Watchmen and mixtapes featuring The Smiths. Little by little, the two start to fall for each other.
Rowell builds us an authentic “Us Against The World” conflict for our young lovers.There are obstacles amongst the couple’s classmates and family. Eleanor and Park are characters that you not only want to root for, you wish to cry out and promise that their ultimate hopes and desires will be met.
The emotional abuse that Eleanor experiences, though upsetting and profane, is the sort of unspoken behavior that some teens are subjected to day after day. This and the book’s vivid use of language make it firmly a high school read.
If you wish to read more from Rainbow Rowell, her latest novel for teens is titled Fangirl. Fans of punk-based romances for teens should seek out Hairstyles of the Damned, by Joe Meno, and Struts & Frets, by Jon Skovron.
With authors such as John Green leading the charge, we are starting to see a groundswell of savvy contemporary teen fiction that navigates high school life and romance in a pitch-perfect approximation. It is a feeling that we adults may remember but not always be able to fully vocalize. Books such as Eleanor & Park can bring one back to those moments with the power to make us laugh and break our hearts within a single page.