I’d mentally flagged this as a book I wanted to read before it was even published, but things going the way they do, I didn’t actually check it out from the library until I had a gap in my listening schedule, after lots of other people had already fallen in love with it. It was a Cybils finalist in the teen section, an Odyssey Honor Book, a Printz Honor book, and a best teen (or children’s) book from Boston Globe Horn Book, Publisher’s Weekly, New York Times, Kirkus Reviews, and NPR. But I really did love it, too, so just on the off-chance that you haven’t heard about it, I’ll put down a few thoughts.
Eleanor & Park is a bittersweet story of 1980s teen romance, happy ending not included. They meet on the school bus, forced to sit together, even though overweight, red-haired Eleanor gives off a weird vibe that Park is afraid will rub off on him, making his already precarious social position as the only half-Korean kid at their Omaha high school even more difficult. Gradually, though, they bond over the music and comic books Park brings for the bus ride – Watchmen is being newly released, and Park has lots of punk rock tapes for his Walkman.
Life is rough for both of them. Besides being a natural target for the school bullies, Eleanor lives in poverty with an abusive stepfather and must be careful to protect her cowed mother and younger siblings. Park’s father reminds him often that he’s a pansy in comparison to his taller, more athletic younger brother. Both Park and Eleanor cling to their relationship as the one thing that makes life worthwhile, even as they know it can’t last.
The book is told alternately from both character’s points of view, and the audio book has a different narrator for each of them. Rebecca Lowman perfectly captured Eleanor’s hard, snarky attitude, while Sunil Malhotra sounded just right for Park’s somewhat gentler nature. My heart melted and pounded and I cried actual tears over it. I loved Rowell’s Fangirl, too, but I think that Liviana at In Bed with Books is right that that is more geek girl wish fulfillment, where this is real, intense first love, good for geeks as well as traditional teen romance fans.