First of all, the author's name is Rainbow Rowell, which predisposed me to either hate or love this book. Fortunately, it proved to be the latter. It also helps that I'm reading a great deal of contemporary/romantic fiction of late, and this ranks high up in that genre.
As always, with a love story, the basic arc is pretty much pre-written. Boy and girl are going to meet, and boy and girl are going to fall in love. Complications will, one hopes, ensue. So, for me, it comes down to the prose and the depth of characterization. On both scores, ELEANOR AND PARK really delivers.
Eleanor is a big boned, with flaming red hair, and a pretty nightmarish family life. Park is a half-Korean kid, trying to fit in with his white Midwestern peers. Both are sensitive, music loving, inquisitive, and troubled. Both have great reasons NOT to fall in love with each other. But it's the eighties, and there are comic books and new wave music to discuss. And so much comfort and tenderness in being different...TOGETHER.
The book is slow to get off the ground, and it sidesteps what could have been a more powerful climax, but the journey is SO full of trenchant and unexpected observations; the characters are never quite what you expect; and one shining, sensitive moment follows another.
If your first love is miles back in the rearview mirror, this novel will bring home the beauty and the ache of it all. And if you're young and still in the throes, you'll no doubt recognize yourself in these pages.