Monday, 3 February 2014

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

When I first saw the cover for Eleanor & Park I wasn’t sure it was for me. It’s not that I’m put off by romance; I just tend not to pick up a book that is purely based around a relationship. But I bought it on impulse due to the Waterstones “buy one get one half off” dilemma that I almost always have in Waterstones. The title had just been given a Printz Honor Award so it was fresh in my mind at the book shop the other week, and I’m pleased to say this wasn’t like any other teen romance title I’ve read before. In fact, it’s one of the most refreshing.

Eleanor has just arrived at a new school. She’s moved back in with her mother and step-father after being kicked out of their house previously. She’s chubby, has flaming red hair and a strange sense of style due to being restricted to thrift-shop buys and hand-me-downs. She is not the sort of person who you would expect to be a love interest, but that’s what happen when Park lets her sit with him on the bus. At first, Park isn’t too sure about Eleanor, and she doesn’t seem too fond of him. But when he notices her reading his comic books during their bus ride, they start to interact more, and eventually have a conversation.

This book is possibly the best I’ve read in capturing how it really feels to be a teenager falling in love for the first time. It’s awkward, it’s exciting and everything suddenly seems so different. Just holding someone’s hand is shocking and thrilling, but eventually not enough. The story is split to follow both Eleanor and Park’s perspectives. And while their relationship drives the story forward, the horrors of Eleanor’s family slowly unravel and start to affect every aspect of her life, even when she tries to keep them separate.

This is an incredibly touching story and well worth all the praise it’s received. It is easy to forget how you felt with your first love, but also amazing how easily those feelings come back when reading this book. (I admit to having several moments of grinning and feeling like a giddy teenager again.) Rainbow Rowell has done an incredibly job with Eleanor & Park, giving us a well-written story that perfectly displays the emotions and struggles of both teenage love and difficult family life.

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