Book: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, Listening Library, February 26, 2013
Audiobook Info: YA Contemporary, Own audiobook. Audio length: 8 hours 56 minutes, read by Rebecca Lowman and Sunil Malhotra. Also available in hardcover & ebook from St. Martin’s Griffin.
Rating: 4.5 / 5 Stars
Rainbow Rowell’s latest book Eleanor & Park is set in Omaha, Nebraska in 1986. It is the story of an all-consuming first love formed from a shared comic book and alternative music connection.
I almost never include favorite book passages in my reviews but when I was listening to the audiobook of Eleanor & Park there were so many quotes I wanted to bookmark or write down. Here’s the official book summary with an example of the writing:
Bono met his wife in high school, Park says.
So did Jerry Lee Lewis, Eleanor answers.
I’m not kidding, he says.
You should be, she says, we’re 16.
What about Romeo and Juliet?
Shallow, confused, then dead.
I love you, Park says.
Wherefore art thou, Eleanor answers.
I’m not kidding, he says.
You should be.
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.
I’ve been meaning to read this book for months because I’m a fan of Attachments, and am attracted to the 80s as a book setting, as well as alternative music. But I’m glad I waited to experience the book as an audiobook. Since the book shares Eleanor and Park’s stories in alternating chapters it’s a treat to hear two different narrators bring their story to life.
The book is primarily about the relationship between Eleanor & Park, two teens that feel like outsiders. Eleanor is the new girl who wears all the wrong clothes, and stands out with her large frame and red hair. She’s bullied and called Big Red. Park is half-Korean and isn’t new in town but feels isolated because of his musical taste. In 1986 there was a divide between the Top40 and alternative scenes and Park’s tastes were ahead of the curve in Omaha. The pair end up next to each other on the school bus and slowly form a connection over music and comic books that develops over time.
The 80s decade is an interesting YA book setting for many reasons, but stands out for the lack of technology & the explosion of post-punk. There were no cell phones for Eleanor and Park to text (not that Eleanor could even afford a cell phone) and music was not that accessible either. It was the time of mix tapes, and I could definitely relate to Eleanor falling in love with the music mixes Park made her, listening to the same songs over and over. And it’s so satisfying for Park to have someone to share his interests with, finally.
It’s nice for Eleanor to have Park as this bright spot in her life because her family life is rough. She lives with her mom and step-dad and shares a room with her four younger siblings. Her step-dad is abusive and an alcoholic and her home life is all-around difficult. Park has some drama with his dad but for the most part has it pretty great compared to Eleanor.
Even though the story is a heavy read due to Eleanor’s family drama, there are plenty of feel-good moments that made me smile. Rowell captures that first love feeling, and made me root for Eleanor and Park. The book has short chapters and Rowell writes in third-person, with alternating Eleanor and Park perspectives. Rowell makes you feel like you’re back in the 80s with many pop culture references.
Rebecca Lowman and Sunil Malhotra read the audiobook, and this is my first experience with their narration. I thought they both did a great job, and sounded age-appropriate. I didn’t feel any disconnect between the characters as written vs. how they sounded. Each narrator uses different voices for different genders, ages, and accents, and gets the tone of the book right. I think the audiobook format made it easier to connect with both Eleanor & Park. It’s a book that I didn’t want to stop listening to, and will probably listen to again. One thing that would have been cool is if the audiobook contained music snippets since music is such a running theme. But, on that note Rowell did create several Spotify playlists so you can check out Eleanor & Park’s musical taste.
I’m definitely a Rainbow Rowell groupie now and eagerly await her next book Fangirl. And I truly hope she does write a follow-up to Eleanor & Park! (Check out this great Elision interview with Rainbow Rowell where she talks about that possibility)
Rainbow Rowell has put together several Spotify playlists for Eleanor & Park, so check out her Spotify feed. I love her official book playlist:
[spotify id="spotify:user:rainbowrowell:playlist:5rxG7idp2muTTywGPWOAvC" width="300" height="380" /]