Love on the Fringe: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

cover image of Eleanor & Park1. Love–Fiction. 2. Dating (Social Customs)–Fiction. 3. High Schools–Fiction. 4. Schools–Fiction.  These library catalog subject headings usually signal a YA love story, often one that teachers and high school librarians will love, and so it is with Eleanor & Park, the second novel by Rainbow Rowell.

Eleanor & Park is a love story set in high school in 1986, a little before the time the author herself graduated from high school, I’d guess. If you were in high school in the 80s, the many music references in the book may resonate more with you than they did with me.

Park is a boy whose half-Korean attractiveness and martial arts talent keep him close enough on the fringes of popularity to remain below the radar of the dominant crowd at school, always on the lookout for outliers and the strange. He lets the new girl on the school bus sit down when no one else will. Right from the first moment he sees her coming down the aisle, Park realizes that Eleanor will be nailed as an outlier. Eleanor is wearing clothes of her own styling; is a bit overweight; towers over Tina (the petite leader of the pack); and has a huge mass of curly hair, in a highly noticeable shade of red. What makes him scoot over for her to let her sit down, he wonders even as he does it. Why endanger his own status when he’s only got one year left of obnoxious high school life to endure?

Eleanor and Park slowly, almost reluctantly connect through a shared love of Watchmen (back when graphic novels were still comic books, and were not cool) and music, the less pop the better. Eleanor has a very troubled home life, including a nasty, abusive stepfather she has already run away from once. Park has a more stable, loving home environment but his father sets unreasonable standards for him – making Park learn to drive a stick shift before he can get his license, for example.

Hugely popular YA author John Green gave Eleanor & Park a glowing review in The New York Times, making Eleanor & Park the new YA/adult crossover phenomenon – the book to read after you’ve read The Fault in Our Stars. Eleanor & Park is a heartbreaking love story that succeeds in making believable the idea that, even in the throes of the most horrendous high school experience, there is the possibility of finding the love of one’s life.

Eleanor & Park
Rowell, Rainbow
St. Martin’s Griffin
February 2013
336 pp
$18.99 US / $21.99 CAN

Disclosure: I borrowed this book through my public library system.

Other opinions of Eleanor & Park (all excellent):
Devouring Texts
Estella’s Revenge

The Picky Girl
Your Friendly Librarian


7 thoughts on “Love on the Fringe: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell”

  1. “the most horrendous high school experience, there is the possibility of finding the love of one’s life.”

    I can vouch for that 🙂

  2. I liked this book SO MUCH 🙂 I graduated high school in ’92 so I felt an affinity with these characters. I think that I would have even if I’d graduated last year 😉

    1. That’s good to know! I liked it, too, but music references don’t do much for me, so I probably didn’t appreciate those as much as other readers might.

  3. This seems to be THE book to read this summer! I keep seeing it pop up everywhere and always with glowing reviews. From what I’ve seen it does sound a bit like John Green and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on this one.

  4. I’ve been disappointed to not find this in the stores I’ve looked in (though of course it might mean it’s selling fast which is awesome). Usually it wouldn’t catch my eye but the response from bloggers, with your own review now added to that, has been to great to ignore.

Would love to have you comment!