I finished reading (audiobook) Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. I was captivated by this YA novel from beginning to end. Set in Omaha, Nebraska, it’s about two high school students’ relationship. The year is 1986, which was the year I graduated, so the references to popular culture were familiar to me. I normally am put off by too many references in books, but I enjoyed the ones in Eleanor & Park. Some were pretty obscure, like the Prefab Sprout t-shirt towards the end of the book, which I really appreciated. I feel like only a certain 80s subculture, like the one my friends and I were part of, would recognize many of the references. But others, such as Totino’s Party Pizzas (we used to eat them all the time!) are common but add a lot of context to the times.
The love story is a simple one but the details and characters were very interesting. Eleanor is a misfit, Park is half-Asian, Eleanor has a large family with an abusive stepfather, while Park’s lives in a typical household. While it’s mainly a teen romance, subjects of bullying, domestic abuse, inter-racial relationships, and racism are also talked about, but not too deeply, which is kind of a shame and I think a little bit of a missed opportunity. However, the pace of the story moves along nicely and maybe it was just the right amount of lightly touching on those heavy subjects.
One thing to note is that some of the East-Asian stereotypes can be a bit “cringey” and reading them left me a little uncomfortable, but if I think about the setting of the story, it kind of makes sense. I don’t know if the author was intentionally describing Park like that to point out the stereotyped mindset of the time, but she could have been clearer. And I have never heard of “Park” as a first name (it is a common Korean surname).
I won’t give away the ending, but I will say that I thought it was excellent and I (unlike many other readers) was satisfied. That final chapter brought a big smile to my face and a little tear to my eye. 😊 Give it a read if you haven’t already!
******** SPOILER ALERT *********
About the ending… it reminded me of the ending to Monsters Inc. It’s that same feeling.
By the way, I made a little sketch of Eleanor wearing Park’s Prefab Sprout t-shirt::