Best of 2013: Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell
ELEANOR & PARK, by Rainbow Rowell. St. Martin’s Griffin, 320 pp.
I wish, so badly, that I could have included both Eleanor & Park and Fangirl in this year’s Top 10. Unfortunately, there were just so many good books this year that I had to pick one. Rainbow Rowell had a fabulous year, releasing two of the best young adult books I’ve read. She’s so easy to get lost in–good luck reading either of these books in more than one sitting.
Because I had to choose, I included Eleanor & Park in this year’s Top 10 list over Fangirl because I simply feel it’s a more classic story. Both of the main characters are outcasts. On the outside, Eleanor is a little chubby, she’s got bright red hair the sticks out everywhere, and her clothes never match. On the inside she’s not quite sure where she fits, either at school or at home.
And even though Eleanor sees Park as too cool to care about her, Park also feels a little outside the box. He’s mixed race, not really feeling like he truly belongs anywhere. To combat this, he’s found that coasting through his life is the best option. If he doesn’t draw attention to himself, he can’t be the butt of anyone’s joke.
I love the development of this relationship. Too often, I feel, love stories focus on the endgame: What happens once the pair is already in love. They rush through the falling in love part to get to the obstacles that threaten to tear the two apart. We often forget the falling in love part has enough drama on its own without any outside forces stepping in. And no experience encapsulates this better than a first love story. We’ve all been there; we all get it.
Eleanor & Park takes place in 1986, a time before every teenager automatically came with his or her own personal cell phone and saturated social (network) life. There’s something to be said about the simplicity of a conversation on a school bus. Color me nostalgic, but when you’re 16 years old, the best gift you could receive was a mixtape from your crush of his favorite songs.
This is a book everyone can read and love, regardless of age. It’s a book to remind us that even in our most awkward and lonely moments, someone loves us. To that person, at the very least, we matter.