4.5 starsEleanor & Park
is one of those books that perfectly speaks to first love. It showcases every extreme; from the tentative beginnings of liking someone to the overwhelming feelings that it might end. It is also a book of other, heavier topics that interweave with the budding romance. Bullying, domestic violence, racism, all of these topics help color the motivations for why Eleanor and Park's romance becomes so white hot and intense, although there are times where the weight of other concerns threatens to overbalance the arrangement and tone.
Both Eleanor and Park are fully realized characters, and I think the best parts of the book are when it delves into their background. Eleanor's self-image in relation to her mother and the bullying are particularly poignant, and Rowell's most beautiful passages tend to be describing how she is not pretty but beautiful in ways that make it easier to sympathize with Park's intense love for her, even though she is not particularly kind and often pushing him away. Park is almost too good to be true, caring and geeky (I decided I would have to pick it up solely for the part that they initially learn to be friends by reading comics together). While it may not make everyone's heart flutter, either going too far or too far afield, Eleanor & Park
has many moments of beauty and authenticity that are worth reading for it.