Sunday Sweethearts: Eleanor & Park

Posted 5 January, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Sunday Sweethearts: Eleanor & ParkEleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Published by Macmillan on February 26th 2013
Genres: Love & Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 328

Bono met his wife in high school, Park says.So did Jerry Lee Lewis, Eleanor answers.I’m not kidding, he says.You should be, she says, we’re 16.What about Romeo and Juliet?Shallow, confused, then dead.I love you, Park says.Wherefore art thou, Eleanor answers.I’m not kidding, he says.You should be.Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love—and just how hard it pulled you under.

So I finally capitulated and read this book after all of the hype. I wasn’t disappointed but I was a little surprised (maybe I didn’t read enough of the hype) it wasn’t exactly what I thought it was going to be. 

It is a magnificent coming of age story, it’s about that first high school sweetheart, it’s about the ‘silly’ things that teenagers do when they like one another but don’t have the courage, or even ability, to express it directly.

It’s about butterflies in your stomach and mixed tapes and that first sweet taste of love. But that’s not all it’s about. It’s also about being different and finding strength in those differences. It’s not just about high school sweethearts — it’s about high school. It’s about mean girls and finding a group of friends that buoy you past the mean girls. It’s about growing up. As an adult I have to read it as remembering what these things are like, and not every author has the talent to speak authentically in the voice of a teenager. Lucky for us, Rainbow Rowell possesses that talent.

Eleanor & Park is also about abuse. It’s about escaping abuse, it’s about exercising the only options you have as a minor. I really thought that the dichotomy between Eleanor’s home life and Park’s home life draws the reader into the stark reality of what living in poverty (with a creepy and abusive step-dad to boot) can be like. It’s rendered very realistically and very effectively.

I’ve seen other reviews that found parts of the story to be contrived, I didn’t feel this way at all! Other than the sudden willingness for the mean kids to help Eleanor at the end, I felt that the characters acted very realistically and the situations that they were put in were commonplace as well, this is part of the brilliance of this novel. At heart Eleanor & Park is (forgive me) an Everyteen book. 

I also read complaints about the changing points of view during the book. I loved this device. It gave the reader the opportunity to experience events twice and to see the differences in the thought process not just between male and female but between privileged middle class and the struggling poor. 

Take the example of Eleanor’s attire. Park thinks she dresses the way she does for attention, whereas Eleanor dresses the way she does out of necessity, there simply isn’t money to get pants that aren’t torn and fit properly. Eleanor chooses to try to cover up the holes with pieces of ribbon, thinking that will allow her more invisibility than the holes, but we see through Park’s eyes that the exact opposite happens. 

This book is an excellent read. I poop on those trying to keep this out of schools. Sometimes life is ugly and ugly language is necessary to demonstrate that. Get over yourselves. 


April @ The Steadfast Reader


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