It has one of the most famously frustrating and ambiguous endings in young adult literature – but don’t let this put you off. Eleanor and Park is the delightful and heart-warming story of two misfits who find each other – and even more importantly, get each other.
Eleanor is new at school – overweight, with red hair and op shop clothes, she stands out like a sore thumb. Park has just enough social capital to avoid bullying – despite his love of comic books and non-mainstream music. What starts off as the two being forced to sit together during bus rides to school soon turns into a touching exploration of the depth of teenage feelings – one that makes it difficult to undermine those relationships which we may think are fleeting or shallow.
While gushy and romantic at times, Eleanor and Park also deals with some challenging themes. Eleanor is being bullied at school, but even worse things wait for her at home. While she lives in relative poverty with five siblings in a single bedroom, there is something very disturbing about her new step-father, who she ran away from a year ago. His malice lingers in every scene set in the home.
Meanwhile Park has a beautiful and supportive family, although he finds he doesn’t quite meet all their expectations too, exemplified by his father’s puzzled reaction to Park wearing eyeliner.
There are some cool lines here, and while mushy, this is a couple unlike most you will read about. Not many couples argue about which is the Han Solo in their relationship (kudos for the Star Wars reference Rainbow Rowell). Definitely one to recommend for older readers – and for adults too.