I have a confession to make: I have never been a huge fan of contemporary/romance novels. I think it has more to do with my desire to escape in a book filled with action and adventure rather than because the story is ever lacking. It’s just not my favourite genre. So imagine my surprise when Eleanor and Park totally lived up to the hype and was one of the least clichéd romances you could possibly expect!
For once I don’t really know what to say! The relationship between Park and Eleanor just felt so sweet and charming and funny and genuine and, I don’t know… real. Like I genuinely believed that they should be a couple. Their blossoming romance and heartfelt conversations had me rooting for them all the way through and praying for a happy ending even though it gradually became clear things were never going to be that simple. Speaking of the ending, I liked it. It felt completely appropriate to the tone and style of the story and it added a healthy dose of realism to remind us that things don’t always work out the way we want them to.
Romance aside, Eleanor and Park were captivating characters in their own right. They were oddballs and social misfits who had complex and layered personalities; they had their flaws, but who doesn’t? I felt like they both matured a lot over the course of the narrative and discovered a lot about themselves as well as each other. Not to mention the physical differences that made them stand out from the crowd of typical YA couples: Park with his Korean heritage and Eleanor being a fuller figure character. These things undoubtedly made me connect with them much more than I normally would, particularly Eleanor, whose body confidence issues I can completely relate to myself. Can we have more diverse, well written characters like them please?!
Oh and let us not forget the parents and family dynamics going on here. I thought the inclusion of both Eleanor and Park’s parents was super important because it showed just how integral they are to a teenager’s life. While I empathised with Eleanor’s situation, in this instance it was Park’s family life which was the most relatable. Although I don’t have any siblings I do know what it’s like to have a slightly strained relationship with your dad. I think I just saw a lot of myself in these characters, and so I enjoyed reading the novel much more than I normally would with something from this genre.
I think some of the quirky 80s nostalgia was lost on me, I’m afraid. Aside from making for some cute moments between Eleanor and Park – the telephone call and the Walkman/music stuff – I reckon I’m just too young to fully appreciate it and as a result I felt a little lost in the setting and kind of distant from the story in general. Plus, I wasn’t prepared for some of the grittier themes this book incorporated so that came as a bit of a surprise to me! It worked, but the unexpectedness of it threw me.
Eleanor and Park is a great book. Definitely not your typical love story which might be why I liked it so much. I’m giving it four stars as it exceeded my expectations and Rowell had me totally engrossed in Park and Eleanor’s relationship. I can’t wait to read more of her novels!