You don’t have to read YA fiction to notice the trend that’s been going strong since Harry Potter. First came the boy wizard, and then came Twilight, Eragon, Percy Jackson, The Mortal Instruments. Even Hunger Games doesn’t stray too far from the path in its eschewing of reality for a horrific dystopian future. So when buzz about Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park started drifting my way, I noticed. Because what sets this book apart is that its title characters are, well, normal. They don’t have special powers. They’re not “the chosen ones.” They don’t save a nation from unspeakable forces. Eleanor and Park do something that felt much more magical than any of that—they fall in love.
Told from its title characters’ points of view in alternating chapters, Eleanor & Park explores the lives of two wayward teens in 1986 middle America and their blossoming relationship.
I purposefully chose to read the book in September, in the heart of back-to-school season, in the midst of my annual rewatching of My So-Called Life. I set the scene for myself because I had a feeling that the book would just fit into my heart better that way. And it did.
I found myself lingering over pages in this lightning quick read, rationing chapters, hesitating before turning the page, just so I’d get to spend a little bit longer with it. Just so I wouldn’t finish it too fast. Which, of course, is exactly what I did with all of my favorite books in high school. Eleanor & Park felt more honest than almost any other portrayal of teenage love I can think of. When I finished it, I wished I could have gone back in time and found this book when I was still 16.
It’s a supremely easy read. I don’t think I’d call it groundbreaking, either. It’s just refreshing. It’s like a comfortable old friend. Just seriously consider picking it up the next time you’re in the mood to remember high school without all the bullshit of having to actually be in high school.
[originally posted October 30, 2013]