Goodreads summary: TWO MISFITS. ONE EXTRAORDINARY LOVE. It’s 1986 and two star-crossed teens are smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love–and just how hard it pulled you under. A cross between the iconic ’80s movie Sixteen Candles and the classic coming-of-age novel Looking for Alaska, Eleanor & Park is a brilliantly written young adult novel.
“You can be Han Solo,” he said, kissing her throat. “And I’ll be Boba Fett. I’ll cross the sky for you.”
Set in August of 1986, Eleanor & Park is primarily a story of first love. Boy meets new girl; new girl looks, dresses, and acts all wrong; boy and new girl harbor an illogical resentment for one another that gradually gives way to a quiet friendship and, eventually, love. But it is also a story about trying to fit in in the world, and of the light and dark sides of family life. It’s about survival and learning to be yourself, even when you think you’re awful. And it’s about letting someone love you.
It was refreshing to read about a female MC who doesn’t justthink she’s a big, awkward loner, but actually is a big, awkward loner. And it was even better to read a teenage love story in which one person isn’t perfect while the other is a walking Fail—Eleanor and Park both have their issues and hang-ups and even though Eleanor is probably the more insecure one (and with her family life and the secrets she has to keep, that’s not surprising), Park is also uncomfortable in his own skin and unsure of his identity.
And wow, reading this was like taking a trip to Nostalgia City. Adolescence and first love, though painful, are such universal experiences—hence the appeal for authors—and even though I wasn’t even born until the end of this book’s events and my teenage years took place in the Aughts, it was so easy to relate to both MCs. I had the Awkward Fat Girl Experience. I dealt with mean girls, changing for gym as quickly and inconspicuously as possible, and the agony of unrequited love and then that weird, semi-flirting when you like someone and they like you, maybe, and you aren’t sure and you’re terrified so you both just kind of dance around it. I remember trying to make a mix CD for someone I liked (even if it was as Just a Friend, the process was still a Very Big Deal) and selecting songs that I hoped they’d love and which would change that person’s world as much as they’d changed mine. I remember listening to my Discman and Walkman until the batteries died and, in the ’90s, painstakingly taping songs off the radio and my parents’ records to make the perfect mix tape. And I remember the first time I listened to “Pictures of You” and “How Soon Is Now?” and the way those songs made me feel.
All that said, this is not quite a five-star novel. Though it deals with other issues, the majority of the book is composed of Eleanor’s and Park’s thoughts about each other. And as sweet as those thoughts are there were some moments where the book, while not really uninteresting or lagging, felt… bland, maybe? I really enjoyed it and I read it in about five hours, but there’s only so much of a teenager’s inner musings on how beautiful his/her significant other is that I can handle before I start to crave more action. Park’s dialogue was sometimes a little unrealistic for a sixteen-year-old boy, I thought, a little too well-spoken with the romantic sentiments. This is also technically Rowell’s first novel (she wrote it before Attachments but published it after) and it just has that feel to it at parts. Not in a bad way and nothing that really detracts from the story; it is just evident in some bits that this was a first go and the writing doesn’t feel quite as comfortable, I guess, as Attachments did.
All in all, Eleanor & Park is a wonderful book about two outsiders in love. If you are a book crier, I suggest you read it with tissues at the ready. There are some sappy moments that might get to you, and the climax had me tearing up a bit.