Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell has been getting a lot of online buzz. It's recognized as an amazing YA book that is also recommended for adults. At first, I found there was nothing special about this awkward, odd love story between two misfits (a slightly overweight, bullied red-head and a comic-reading loner Asian), but by the end, I was hooked. This is a beautiful and slightly tragic love story that will tug on your heartstrings and stick with you long after you close the book.
Summary: Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits--smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you'll remember your own first love--and just how hard it pulled you under.
Told in alternating narratives, Eleanor and Park fall in love, in spite of how difficult love is to someone who has never truly experienced it anywhere in life. Bullied by kids at school, abused by her stepfather, and humiliated and neglected in her own home, Park becomes her shining ray of hope in all the darkness. Along with the ups and downs that are teenage love, Park endures the judgment of his family and friends for loving a girl who isn't liked, and whose family has a bad reputation.
When Eleanor's living situation worsens, it becomes clear that as much as we need someone, sometimes loving a person means giving them up. The end of the book doesn't bring justice or the satisfaction of punishment for those who made Eleanor's life hell, but there is a sense of closure, and more importantly for me, a happy ending.
Eleanor & Park is a book that teens and adults alike can enjoy. It doesn't read like typical YA/teen books, so don't be put off by the target audience. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and recommend it!
While there's nothing overly special about the writing, narrative, or the characterization, it is a great read. I feel like Eleanor & Park is a great backlist book that just so happened to surface and gain some momentum. Scholastic's The Big Crunch is very similar to Eleanor & Park. Sadly, The Big Crunch didn't rise above the mass of other books in the YA/Romance/Drama genre, so if you're looking for a comparative title, I'd check that out.