Review: Eleanor & Park

At a camp I went to this year, someone posed the question: “Who is your fictional dream boy?” Girls around me screamed, “Augustus Waters!” or, “Edward Cullen!” I replied with “Holden Caulfield.”

See, I’ve never been into young adult romance books; I hate romance. I hate it even more when it’s weaved into some cheesy, unrealistic story that turns into a mainstream hit. But then I read Rainbow Rowell’s “Eleanor & Park.”

Set in 1985 Omaha, Nebr., “Eleanor & Park” follows two lonely teenagers who find comfort in each others’ differences. This novel does not embody the quintessential best-seller love story, instead creating a beautiful tale dealing not only with Eleanor and Park’s love, but also racism toward Park, domestic violence toward Eleanor and every hot topic in between.

Eleanor and Park meet on a school bus. Park pities Eleanor and lets her sit with him. The relationship progresses from there. Eleanor takes interest in Park’s comic books, and Park notices the band names on Eleanor’s journal.

Eleanor is not your classic “Bella Swan” or “Hazel Grace.” She’s an obese redhead who is new to town. Kids pick on her relentlessly, and her low socioeconomic status isn’t helpful. 15745753

On top of all that, Eleanor’s mother recently married a violent alcoholic who abuses Eleanor and her five siblings. Her sharp contrast to the stereotypical female protagonist makes the book compelling.

Half Caucasian, half Korean, Park is bullied because of his mixed heritage. While Park’s home life is ideal, he suffers at school. He reads comic books, listens to alternative music and wears all black with eyeliner—all deviating him further from the norm.

Park feels out of place in Omaha. He wants to express himself, but believes everyone in his life is hindering his full potential.

Park’s character is refreshing. He’s not just that one jock who secretly writes poetry. His pain is realistic, but it doesn’t overtake the plot. Park doesn’t hide his differences. While he sometimes tones down his distinctions, he remains true to himself.

Eleanor and Park invest in each other and soon become each other’s emotional outlets. This story isn’t about romantic love but rather a best friend relationship.

When Eleanor and Park are together, they block out the world. The story doesn’t move fast. It doesn’t need to.

“Eleanor & Park” relates to teens’ struggle in finding themselves. It is a story that shows how outsiders can become confidants and how not every young adult romance novel needs attractive vampires or stunning, flawless female protagonists.