Eleanor is the new girl in town, and with her chaotic family life, her mismatched clothes and unruly red hair, she couldn't stick out more if she tried.
Park is the boy at the back of the bus. Black T-shirts, headphones, head in a book - he thinks he's made himself invisible. But not to Eleanor... never to Eleanor.
Slowly, steadily, through late-night conversations and an ever-growing stack of mix tapes, Eleanor and Park fall for each other. They fall in love the way you do the first time, when you're young, and you feel as if you have nothing and everything to lose.
I adore Rowell's writing but boy, she can pull on my heartstrings! The whole story was bittersweet: the delicate first love woven with bad family drama and hatred. Their interactions were slow and easy, neither wanting to upset the cart of high school hierarchies. They fall in love over comic books and mix tapes on the bus, then grow braver in every encounter. Although they might be in some ways complete opposites, Eleanor has horrible secrets and Park is almost an open book, they are so similar in that they are outcasts and find a sense of belonging in each other.
Let's discuss Eleanor first. She was a big girl, with red hair, likes to wear ribbons, golf shoes and men's shirts. There is plenty about her for the mean girls to pick on. Yet she is brave and stubborn and mature enough to let it slide off her back. She might have been a bit stand-offish at first, making it difficult to understand her, but she was very sweet, nervous around Park and I really loved her, with all her accessories and secret box for special things. As for Park, he was a fresh take on the school-boy-crush: son of war veteran and Korean national, he is used to the funny looks due to his appearance but nothing prepares him for the emotional onslaught that is Eleanor. After a bit of adjusting, he takes it in his stride, realising (as you should) that appearances don't matter, not compared to what's in your heart.
It was adorable but also, more importantly, real. Yes, it was pretty rude and some of the content was plain deplorable, but things like that happen and I think Rowell did an amazing job in dealing and describing so many personal issues. The most obvious one being bullying, in all its shapes and sizes; from mean girls to jackass step-parents. Eleanor was incredibly brave and mature in dealing with the school-yard bullies, especially when Park could only punch things. Like Steve's face. And the development in their relationship, both in terms of holding hands and trusting each other with their deepest secrets, was subtle yet dramatic. It was obvious they were perfect for each other and the slow build-up made it realistically beautiful. That is what made this one of my new favourite books.
Published 1st February 2013 by Orion.