Park doesn’t want any trouble. He wants to ride the bus in his coveted single seat listening to his tape deck and reading comics. Park is half Korean and in Nebraska that makes him stand out more than he’d like. He often barely fits in and holds onto his childhood friendships with the popular kids to avoid confrontation.
Eleanor wants out of her house. Since she returned home, Eleanor has had to share a room with all of her younger siblings and a cat she’s always hated. Her step-dad is abusive and her once strong mother seems paralyzed to stop him terrorizing the family. Eleanor just wants to find a seat on her new bus and stare out the window and daydream of better days.
While it sounds like the beginning of a pretty cliché story of teen angst and love, it was actually one of the most heart-wrenching, well written young adult novels I’ve read in a long time. Rowell really captures the dramatics of first loves in a believable and young voice. You will forget that Eleanor and Park are characters in a book and you’ll root for them to make it even when things get really tough.
Eleanor & Park also deals with issues like bullying, poverty, and domestic violence. Eleanor does not have a toothbrush, her bra is safety-pinned together and she only gets clothes when her mother finds something on sale at a thrift store, usually ill-fitted. At school, she faces constant ridicule by her peers and when she goes home she must tiptoe around her physically and emotionally abusive step-father. Her relationship with wholesome Park is her escape and makes their relationship that more intense and turbulent.
I recommend this book to mature teens and any adult who still remembers what it was like be young and in love. Set in the eighties there are plenty of pop culture references that are fun to pick out. It will definitely make you long for the days before cell phones and mp3 players.