FICTION

Eleanor & Park

328p. St. Martin's Griffin. Mar. 2013. Tr $18.99. ISBN 978-1-250-01257-9; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-1-250-03121-1.
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RedReviewStarGr 9 Up—In this novel set in the 1980s, teenagers Eleanor and Park are outsiders; Eleanor, because she's new to the neighborhood, and Park, because he's half Asian. Although initially wary of each other, they quickly bond over their love of comics and 1980s alternative music. Eleanor's home life is difficult; her stepfather physically abuses her mother and emotionally abuses Eleanor and her siblings. At school, she is the victim of bullying, which escalates into defacement of her textbooks, her clothes, and crude displays on her locker. Although Park's mother, a Korean immigrant, is initially resistant to the strange girl due to her odd fashion choices, his father invites Eleanor to seek temporary refuge with them from her unstable home life. When Eleanor's stepfather's behavior grows even more menacing, Park assists in her escape, even though it means that they might not see each other again. The friendship between the teens is movingly believable, but the love relationship seems a bit rushed and underdeveloped. The revelation about the person behind the defacement of Eleanor's textbooks is stunning. Although the narrative points of view alternate between Eleanor and Park, the transitions are smooth. Crude language is realistic. Purchase for readers who are drawn to quirky love stories or 1980s pop culture.—Jennifer Schultz, Fauquier County Public Library, Warrenton, VA
It's the start of a new school year in 1986 Omaha when sophomores Eleanor and Park meet for the first time on the bus. They are an unusual pair: she's the new girl in town, an ostracized, bullied "big girl" with bright red curly hair, freckles, and an odd wardrobe; he's a skinny half-Korean townie who mostly wears black and tries to stay out of the spotlight. But as they sit together on the school bus every day, an intimacy gradually develops between them. At first they don't talk; then she reads his comics with him; he makes her mixtapes of his favorite rock bands; they hold hands; and eventually they are looking for ways to spend every waking hour together. Their slowly evolving but intense relationship is chaste first love, authentic in its awkwardness -- full of insecurities, miscommunications, and sexual awakenings -- and life-changing for them both. When Eleanor's unstable home life (replete with abusive stepfather) ultimately tears the young lovers apart, the novel ends realistically: uncertain, yet still hopeful. Rowell presents her teen protagonists' intelligent observations, extreme inner desires, and irrational feelings through compelling alternating narrations. She imbues the novel with rich character development, a spot-on depiction of the 1980s, and powerful descriptive passages ("Holding Eleanor's hand was like holding a butterfly. Or a heartbeat. Like holding something complete, and completely alive"). It's an honest, heart-wrenching portrayal of imperfect but unforgettable love. cynthia k. ritter

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