BookBrowse Reviews Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Eleanor & Park

by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Published:
    Feb 2013, 320 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Tamara Smith

Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


Punk rock frames the background for this teen love story set in Nebraska

Winner of the BookBrowse 2013 Best YA Book Award
If Eleanor & Park, the debut novel by Rainbow Rowell, were a song, it would be a punk rock song, no question. John Holmstrom, the founding editor of Punk magazine once said that punk rock was "rock and roll by people who didn't have very much skills as musicians but still felt the need to express themselves through music." And this pretty much sums up the teenagers, Eleanor and Park. They are outcasts in their own unique ways – and as such they don't have much "skill" in the relationship department – but what they both do have is incredible passion and the deepest need to express it. Sounds kind of like punk rock at least by Holmstrom's definition. To take the metaphor just a little bit further, Eleanor and Park embody both the nihilistic (think the Sex Pistols' "No Future") and the utopian (think the Clash's Joe Strummer's assertion that "punk rock is meant to be our freedom") sides of punk. The teens' relationship is destined to swerve and spin and dangerously careen into a cliff but, at the same time, it is a hopeful, bare, and desperately truthful testament to love in the state of Nebraska.

The story is chock full of references to bands and their songs. Songs are, in fact, how Eleanor and Park meet. They are on the school bus, forced to sit together after Eleanor is shunned by every other student and Park is too shy to tell her he wants to sit alone. After many days of no eye contact and no conversation, and after Park notices song lyrics on Eleanor's notebook, he "took his Walkman out of the pocket of his trench coat and popped out his Dead Kennedys tape. He slid the new tape in, pressed Play, then – carefully – put the headphones over her hair. He was so careful, he didn't even touch her." Slowly, excruciatingly slowly, the two begin to talk about music, form a friendship, and eventually fall in love.

I wondered, as I read further and further into the book, if contemporary teens would know all the bands and songs that Rowell references. She drops tons of names and titles, and they are all from the 1970s and '80s (the book is set in the '80s). But perhaps punk rock and its successors – post punk and alternative rock and new wave – are timeless (I think it could be successfully argued that all music falls into that wonderful category of being timeless and of-the-exact-moment all at the same time.) Also iTunes has made music extremely accessible, and Pandora has made finding new music simple. Regardless, most people at most times can relate to stories of unlikely lovers, first love found and first love lost. Eleanor & Park is this kind of story.

It is also a well-written one. Rowell alternates between Eleanor and Park's voices, sometimes giving the reader a wide view into one of the teens' home life or class at school and then switching to give a view into the other's, and sometimes changing points of view so rapidly that the reader is offered almost simultaneous insight into both their thoughts and feelings.

"Eleanor – When she saw Park standing at the bus stop on Monday morning, she started giggling. Seriously, giggling like a cartoon character…when their cheeks get all red, and little hearts start popping out of their ears… It was ridiculous.
Park – When he saw Eleanor walking toward him on Monday morning, Park wanted to run to her and sweep her up into his arms. Like some guy in the soap operas his mom watched. He hung onto his backpack to hold himself back… It was kind of wonderful."

Rowell's use of fast transitions and repetition works. The reader can sense Eleanor's and Park's separate points of view, but also the sameness of them too. The ways they are meant for one another become clear to the reader, even when they themselves can't see it. And in the moments that they do – well, the reader gets to truly feel that connection too. There were times when I was ahead of the story. I knew what was going to happen and the writing felt predictable. And usually I was right, which I didn't like. But then sometimes I was wrong; Rowell would throw a slight curve into the arc of the story, and I eagerly continued to read. After having time away from the story, this sense of predictability has faded though. And the raw, true depiction of love has stayed. This happens, sometimes, after I read a book, and it is a good reminder that some stories need time to settle before their ultimate resonance can emerge.

In the end, I had a deep sense of who Eleanor and Park were – as individual notes and as a song. A punk rock song. A little dissonant, a little loud, but a song I wanted to sing along with, one of those songs that gets under my skin and matches the beat of my own heart.

I recommend Eleanor & Park to teens who want a punk rock love story, and to everyone who ever remembers their first love.

Reviewed by Tamara Smith

This review is from the March 6, 2013 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.



This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

One-Month Free Membership

Discover your next great read here

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Hillbilly Elegy
    Hillbilly Elegy
    by J.D. Vance
    In this illuminating memoir, Vance recounts his trajectory from growing up a "hillbilly" in ...
  • Book Jacket: The Dark Flood Rises
    The Dark Flood Rises
    by Margaret Drabble
    Margaret Drabble, the award-winning novelist and literary critic who is approaching eighty and ...
  • Book Jacket: All Our Wrong Todays
    All Our Wrong Todays
    by Elan Mastai
    You need a great deal of time to read All Our Wrong Todays, but don't let that put you off. ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Atomic Weight of Love
by Elizabeth J. Church

In the spirit of The Aviator's Wife, this resonant debut spans from World War II through the Vietnam War.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Our Short History
    by Lauren Grodstein

    Lauren Grodstein breaks your heart, then miraculously pieces it back together so it's stronger, than before.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Lola
    by Melissa Scrivner Love

    An astonishing debut crime thriller about an unforgettable woman.
    Reader Reviews

Who Said...

What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading, you wish the author that wrote it was a ...

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

O My D B

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
Modal popup -