Eleanor just moved to a new place with her mom, stepdad and younger siblings. Park has lived there forever with his korean mother, american father and younger brother. He likes his spot alone on the school bus where bullies like the neighbour Steve leaves him alone. For reasons he doesn`t understand he offers the seat next to him to the weird looking Eleanor when noone else will on her first day. And this is where the story about the two of them starts.
The story about Park and Eleanor is cute, real and heartbreaking. They are in a way two lost souls that find each other over comic books and music on the school bus. Eleanor is the new weird looking girl with clothes that don`t really fit and big read hair. Park is the half-Korean kid that tries to be left alone most of the time and is in sharp contrast to his brother who looks and act more like his all-american macho father when he himself looks more like his feminine korean mother. At Eleanor`s house they all have to tip-toe around the very moody and abusive stepfather. Eleanor has been sent away before for being rude and even though home is not a happy place it`s still home. She also has way too much responsibility for her brothers and sisters, that all sleep in the same room, for keeping them of the stepdad`s radar. This way of living has made her very tough and her shell is not easy to break into.
The story`s told form both Eleanor`s and Park`s perspectives divided into their own chapters. It`s set to the 80`s with a lot of popcultural references from that era but it doesn`t seem to matter to the younger readers nor should it. I guess when an author writes about things they know it usually feels more real than if they try to write about the things that young people care about today without really getting it. Music and comic books are the most important way for Park and Eleanor to connect and communicate. Park provides Eleanor with mix-tapes and comic books to take home and they`re definitely her comfort in a home where nothing`s like it should be. And then they talk about it on the school bus the next day. Eleanor also finds a way give something back when she realizes Park isn`t that updated on older music. So I guess the main reason why the era doesn`t really matter is that all readers will get their way of communicating and finding someone who cares about the same things you do.
The best part of the book is the way Rowell gets you to really care about the characters. They are so well described and seem so real to me. My heart just breaks for Eleanor and all the things she had and has to go through. And even though Park`s problems in comparison doesn`t seem as major you still gets his struggle because I think a lot of us can relate to feeling like an outsider, not being or looking the way you want or are expected to especially in those challenging teenage years.
What makes this book stand out is the way it combines the heavy issues with the more plain but still important issues of being a teenager. And this is not your typical romance or love story where the girl is swept away. It`s just as much about friendship and finding someone who gets you, for both of them all told in such a cautious way that makes it such a tender experience. And even though I constantly wanted to help Eleanor, hug her and tell her everything would be okay, she manages to find her own way and strength. And unfortunately this is the reality for many people that struggle, there are noone there to save them or even help them. The story gets to me as my teenager self, and as a mother and human being and it`s the beautiful and strong Eleanor I will remember the most.
Eleanor & Park has won several awards, both literary and given by the readers. Amongst them YA-book of the year on Goodreads and just last week it was recognized as an Honor Book at the Printz awards. I did really like and enjoy this book despite all the fuzz because fortunately quite a few books actually deserve it. I am very tempted to read more by the author and since I already have Fangirl at home it`s very likely this will happen. I am also very happy tø say that I recently discovered that this book will be published in norwegian later this year.