Eleanor & Park (St. Martin’s Griffin) is so much better than it needs to be, it takes one by surprise. Though the book is aimed at young adult readers, this is the sort of ageless story that needs no limits. Readers of all ages who enjoy having their hearts touched will like this one.
The pair in the title are a brace of 16-year-olds who are deeply in love. They are intelligent teens and understand that, for so many reasons, the deep attachment they feel can not last. Even so, they give into the things that call them and have a go.
The misfit mid-1980s Omaha teens are an ill-made match that has their friends and families shaking their heads. Park is biracial: the “weird Asian kid” is how Eleanor first sees him, with skin “the color of sunshine through honey.” Eleanor is a loud and large, a big-boned redhead who sees herself as fat. They spin their love against a backdrop of punk rock mixtapes and it’s impossible not to root for them, even while you suspect that this story of first love will not have an a-typical ending.
Eleanor & Park follows up Rowell’s debut: 2011’s smart and wonderful Attachments. No sophomore slump here. Eleanor & Park is a biography of a first love: poignant, heartfelt, ultimately doomed, but absolutely unforgettable. ◊
Sienna Powers is a contributing editor to January Magazine.