Rainbow Rowell had a very big 2013. The young adult writer published two acclaimed novels, each distinctly different from the other. The first--her young adult debut--followed the unlikely teen romance of Eleanor & Park, two high school students in the 1980s. Eleanor is new to Park's school and immediately face challenges fitting in. Park flies under the radar, friendly with popular kids but more on his own. The back-and-forth between Eleanor's and Park's chapters is a great setup for some electric dramatic irony, and the novel continues to frustrate and arouse as only a teen romance can.
The novel covers a lot of important issues we deal with today, making the 80's setting almost a crucible for our young protagonists. Eleanor is a bit chubby, poor and has an outlandish appearance (huge locks of flowing red hair). In relation, Park is a skinny, short half-Korean who's into comic books and The Smiths. Seeing an interracial relationship depicted so naturally is a breath of fresh air. The struggles in their relationship never come from Park's race, but more personal, realistic issues.
Eleanor's home life is often hard to read. Her abusive stepfather doesn't take up quite enough space in the novel for his importance, but is terrifying nonetheless. You'll spend much of the novel desperately wishing Eleanor could have better, because she deserves it. You'll also spend a great deal of thought on what it really means to be poor. Rainbow Rowell has some great, stinging commentary there.
For such a short novel, Rainbow Rowell packs a lot into it. Eleanor's insecurities show just how keenly the writer remembers being a teen. The novel goes through turns of being un-put-down-able to so frustrating you'll want to throw it against the wall. A great read for teens and adults alike.
You can find Rainbow Rowell's young adult teen romance novel Eleanor & Park at your local chain bookstore, online or at an independent bookstore near you (click here for a list). You can also download the eBook to your Kindle, Nook, iPad or other reading device.