Eleanor & Park
London, Orion, 2012, 325p
Eleanor & Park has been in high demand amongst many of my students - of a similar vein as John Green's novels, it tells the tale of two misfits trying to go unnoticed, who can't help but notice each other.
Park is a quiet, comic-book reading boy. He isn't bullied, but you couldn't say he is particularly popular. Eleanor is new, and on her first day, finds herself sat next to Park on the bus. They travel to and from school together every day in silence, until Park notices that Eleanor is reading his comics over his shoulder. They start to share some of the loves and hates, until they realise they love each other.
It is clear why Rainbow Rowell has become incredibly popular - she appeals to that part of every one of us that feels uncomfortable in social situations. I would have loved this as a teenager, but experience has made me a cynic.
Romeo and Juliet is referenced as the kids' English books, and the themes of that classic are reflected in Eleanor & Park. They quickly fall deeply for each other, and like first love, cannot imagine life without each other. Park's parents are mostly supportive, but Eleanor has a difficult home situation, with an aggressive and drunk stepfather.
Unfortunately, just like I couldn't get around Romeo and Juliet killing themselves, I struggled to engage with the idea that Eleanor and Park's first loves would possibly be their last and only.
Nevertheless, Eleanor & Park is an easy and engaging read, and it feels very contemporary, reflecting the current trend towards a reminiscent adoration of past popular culture (the story is set in 1986 so bands like The Smiths are prominent!).