Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

SPOILER ALERT

Park thinks she is big, awkward, and wearing clothes that are a mess. Eleanor think he’s either a devil or stupid. He swears at her, she frowns at him. Here is the most unromantic start to a romance I have ever encountered in YA literature.

In the midst of the raucous student atmosphere at the back of the school bus, Eleanor reads Park’s comics with a covert sideways gaze, forging a silent intimacy between them. Once Park is on to her, he turns the pages more slowly and holds the pages wider on his lap for her to see. A full eighth of the book in, they still have not spoken to one another from their adjacent seats, but at her bus stop, Park hands Eleanor the half-finished Watchmen comic. The romance, unlike any you’ve ever read, is on.

Her voice in class has a cool defiance and Park thinks she recites a poem in English like it’s a living thing she has just let out. The kids call her Raghead and Bozo and steal her clothes in gym, until, nearly midstory, heretofore mild-mannered Park kicks his friend Steve in the mouth with a jump reverse straight out of Karate Kid. By the time the story ends, Eleanor escapes her abusive stepfather with Park’s help, but they may never see each other again. He writes her every day but Eleanor puts a stop to it, unable to bear the thought that Park would ever love her less than he did on the day they say goodbye.

Rowell succeeds in making the unlikely tale utterly credible, in no small part by observing the protagonists so closely that they seem to become friends of the reader. Here is a book that redefines first love; redefines romance, period. The author breaks new ground for outsiders everywhere! If you missed it when it came out from St. Martin’s Press last year, like I did, go read it now.

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