Eleanor and Park

By . 7 CDs. 8:57 hrs. Prod. by Listening Library. Dist. by Listening Library/Books on Tape. 2013. ISBN 978-0-385-36828-5. $50.
Gr 9 Up—Eleanor, 15, is the new girl at school and bullied because she's overweight and dresses in a flamboyant manner. Park is a half-Korean boy who has lived in Omaha, Nebraska, all his life but still feels like an outsider. This is a story of first love, which very slowly builds from the first day Eleanor sits next to Park on the school bus. First they ignore each other, and then they slowly become friends through their love of comic books and 1980s alternative music. Park is the only good thing in Eleanor's life. Her home life is a miserable exercise in trying to stay out of her abusive stepfather's way, and finding new ways to wear the same clothes repeatedly since there is no money for anything extra. Park adores everything about Eleanor, and she finds refuge at his house after school with his understanding parents. Things finally explode at Eleanor's house and Eleanor and Park's relationship is truly tested. The narrative points of view alternate between Eleanor and Park, adding dimension to Rowell's story (St. Martin's Griffin, 2013), and narrators Rebecca Lowman and Sunil Malhtra competently voice the pair. Give this to teenage girls who crave romance.—Julie Paladino, East Chapel Hill High School, NC
Two high school misfits begin an unlikely friendship that turns into love. When Park sees the big, awkward girl with the wild red hair get on the bus, he knows she’s going to have a hard time in school. Then Eleanor sits next to him, and continues to do so day after day. Eventually, the two find common interests in music and comics. Rowell’s honest depiction of the tender trepidation of first love is expertly handled by the two narrators. Lowman keeps Eleanor’s voice steady and devoid of emotion without sounding robotic; she is portraying a girl who is trying to be tough because that is how she survives. But as Eleanor begins to care for Park, we hear the tiniest hint of emotion creep into her voice. Malhotra’s portrayal of Park feels so real that the listener steps inside the teenage boy’s thoughts. Both narrators are perfectly suited to their roles; the alternating narration is seamless. Their voices evolve and become more intimate as the relationship between Eleanor and Park deepens; the underlying tension is felt and heard in every breath that Eleanor utters, every sweet thing that Park says. Put this one on your not-to-be-missed playlist. angela j. reynolds

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