Book Review: Eleanor & Park

Title: Eleanor & Park

Author: Rainbow Rowell

Genre: YA / Romance 

Pages: 328

Rating: ★★★☆☆

This is a sweet novel about the formation of a romantic relationship between two teenagers in Omaha in 1986. But there is a lot more going on beneath the surface of this romance, and the two teenagers have to face decisions no kids should ever have to make.

Here are my thoughts on Eleanor & Park. 

1. Eleanor

Okay, three cheers for Eleanor. I LOVE this girl. The book starts off with Park seeing Eleanor for the first time as she gets on the school bus. All the school-kids pull the old-fashioned “you can’t sit here” move.

According to Park Eleanor looks;

‘like exactly the sort of person this would happen to.’ 

Eleanor is described as big and awkward with crazy, curly red hair. She is dressed in a men’s shirt and has on a dozen weird necklaces and has several scarves wrapped around her wrists. Park thinks that she looks like a scarecrow.

Basically, Eleanor is that girl at school. The one who gets picked on, not for any reason in particular, but just because she doesn’t fit in, and probably because she doesn’t stick up for herself either. She’s overweight, she’s quiet, she daydreams through class and she looks unusual; she quickly becomes a target.

We eventually find out more about Eleanor, and there’s a lot more beneath the surface than any of the kids at school know. Even Park takes awhile to figure it all out.

 Eleanor is courageous, kind, and very witty. She wears ugly clothes because her family is on the brink of poverty. Her step-father is an alcoholic, and he is controlling, cruel, and abusive. Eleanor’s backstory will break your heart. Things are bad enough for her at school, with all the bullying, but things at home are way, way worse.

My favourite thing about Eleanor, though, is that she doesn’t change herself. Sure, she definitely grows a lot as a character,  but she never stops being what you’d call an out-cast.

Eleanor is insecure about her body, she is nicknamed ‘Big Red’ and it’s obvious she just feels really fat and ugly, something a lot of teenage girls can relate to.

I read this blog post by Rainbow Rowell where she addresses the question of whether  Eleanor is actually fat, or if she just thinks she’s fat. In short, the truth is that Eleanor is fat. Exactly how fat you imagine her to be, is left up to the reader.

I think this is really important, because you never really see any larger female protagonists in any YA novels, or in any novels or movies, really. And if you do, they are usually demonised. They only get their happily-ever-after when they’ve lost weight, or when they’ve changed something about themselves.

Eleanor finds love without changing herself. Park falls in love with her, exactly as she is. She doesn’t need to lose weight, or change her clothes, or become popular, or change her personality. She can just be herself, because she is beautiful and perfect as she is.

There are so many skinny skinny women in the media, and this is presented as perfection. And yes, being healthy is important. But being happy is more important. A lot of girl’s have problems with body image and eating disorders because they believe that they will never be accepted unless they fit into a certain ideal.

I love Eleanor, because she shows the truth; every one of us can be loved exactly as we are. You don’t need to look like a Kardashian for someone to fall in love with you. Your worth as a human being is not based on your appearance, or on who falls in love with you and who doesn’t for that matter. Read this amazing blog-post about it for more.

2. Park

Hmmm, mixed feelings about Park. In some ways, he’s very romantic and an absolute sweetheart. Other times, he’s a bit of a jerk.

He lets Eleanor sits next to him on the bus, but then swears at her and ignores her.

He falls in love with her, but he sometimes feels embarrassed by her.

He rescues her from a traumatic experience, and then is angry when she falls asleep.

I guess he’s just young. He comes from a happy home, with a lot of security and he can’t fully understand what Eleanor is going through. I guess you could say that throughout the story he is learning how to love.

3. The Racism

One of the themes in this book is race. It’s the first thing we hear the kids talking about on the school bus, and we learn that Park is Asian because Steve and Tina are trying to make him talk about ‘drunken monkey karate’ (whatever that is). It seems that in this small, midwestern town in 1986, race is a pretty big deal. Being part of a minority group here sucks, and that is evident throughout the story.

At first, all the racial slurs annoyed me and I found them pretty offensive. They’re the main reason I found it hard to make up my mind about this book, because I wasn’t sure if they were there for any real purpose or if they were even self-aware.

Even Eleanor turns Park in to an ‘other,’ because she often refers to him as Asian and it’s like there’s something so weird about him being Asian that he just can’t be referred to as an actual human being.

I have to say though, I think race is actually a really important issue in this book.

Park has no interest in his Korean heritage – it just so happens that he looks Asian, unlike his brother. His mother tries to distance herself from her Korean culture and tries to assimilate into American culture, and Park obviously wants to do the same. I think it’s really sad that he doesn’t have an interest in his heritage and it just goes to show how big an effect growing up in a racist environment can have on people.

4. The Romance

Ah, love. The kind of frantic love where you can’t be apart without desperately missing the other person. The kind of love where you live each day just to see the other person. The kind of love where you look at each other like this;

The way Eleanor and Park fall in love with each other is very cute. They start off not-talking, but eventually Park notices Eleanor reading his comic books over his shoulder on the school-bus. Soon they start sharing comics and mix-tapes and it’s all very sweet and indie. And it’s a pretty realistic portrayal of that first-love kind of thing. It’s sweet, it’s romantic. Sometimes it’s a little over-the-top, but hey, lap it up, right?

There’s also a really steamy hand-holding sesh.

Yeah, I know right? Hand-holding? But that scene is seriously hotter than any sex scene you’ve ever read.

“Nothing was dirty. With Park. Nothing could be shameful. Because Park was the sun, and that was the only way Eleanor could think to explain it.” 


5. The Ending


The end was kind of maddening and made me want a sequel and left me with a lot of feels. But, in saying that, I’m glad we don’t know what those three words are. It’s nice to let Eleanor & Park have that privacy and that intimacy.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book, the writing style really drew me in with the way the perspective changed between Eleanor and Park. I loved the characters, I loved the romance, and I loved the way it dealt with issues that are so much bigger than two teenagers. It’s a beautiful book, and it left me with A LOT of feelings.

Have you read Eleanor & Park? What were your thoughts? 

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s