Title: Eleanor and Park
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Narrator: Rebecca Lowman, Sunil Malhotra
Audiobook Length: 8 hours, 56 minutes
Genre: Young Adult; Romance
Origins: Mine. All mine.
Release Date: 26 February 2013
“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.”
Thoughts on the Novel: Eleanor and Park are two ordinary teenagers. They suffer from the same doubts and insecurities, bullies, cliques, high school drama, and family angst that so many other teens experience throughout their lives. They have no hidden talents or special powers. There is no magic or supernatural forces at work. However, it is their very ordinariness that makes Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell so extraordinary.
Both Park and Eleanor have the misfortune of attending high school before grunge became popular, before it became okay to be quirky and different, before geekiness was cool. This means that Park’s love of punk bands, and Eleanor’s odd manner of dress and aloofness cause them both to be on the fringes of high school society. As so often occurs in such novels, they only start a relationship grudgingly because of forced proximity than through any instant attraction or long-standing friendship. The rest of the story follows a similar path in that boy and girl experience the pull of first love, encounter difficulties, and must make some tough decisions that put their relationship in jeopardy.
Set in nondescript Omaha in the 1980s, there is a nostalgic factor that still remains true to life. The importance of the Walkman and its profound ability to discover and share new music, the burgeoning punk rock movement with its strange clothes and even stranger music – all of this plays a huge factor in Park’s and Eleanor’s lives as they fight the mainstream in high school and seek to establish their own identities in the middle of midwestern suburbia.
What makes Eleanor and Park so special is the believability of their story. Park struggles with fitting in, with how others may perceive his relationship with Eleanor, with wanting to please his parents but also with wanting to explore the independence that comes with getting older. He is far from perfect and knows it, and as long as that does not cause him any major issues on the bus or at school, he is okay with life on the fringes. His confusion about his feelings is poignant and familiar to readers, as we have all had to determine what was most important to us in any relationship but at no time is this more confusing than with a first relationship.
Eleanor’s story is the more tragic of the two, but that makes her no less believable. In fact, while a reader might never experience Eleanor’s poverty level or tragic family history, Ms. Rowell makes her so utterly sympathetic and real that one immediately feels empathy for her. This connection serves to heighten the story’s ominous progress towards an uncertain future and potential unhappy ending. It also serves to emphasize the ordeal of Eleanor’s life.
The writing in Eleanor and Park is truly spectacular. Ms. Rowell actively engages the reader by making them piece together the puzzle of Eleanor’s past and present circumstances. She does not spoon-feed readers any portion of the story but reminds them that falling in love is not all roses. More importantly, she makes this story of first love believably compelling.
Thoughts on the Audiobook: Rebecca Lowman and Sunil Malhotra have the types of voices that make it easy to forget one is listening to a book. Particularly, Mr. Malhotra as Park is especially honest and open. He voices Park’s frustrations, angst, and fears so well that Park becomes a very real person just trying to survive high school. Ms. Lowman as Eleanor is equally forthright; however, her performance suffers from mouth sounds. This alone prevents a reader from becoming totally immersed in Eleanor’s side of the story because there is very little that is more cringe-worthy than listening to the not-so-dulcet sounds of someone smacking their gums while talking. Thankfully, this does not occur every time Ms. Lowman was speaking, but it does happen often enough that it makes a listener pause the novel in concern that one will have to turn down the volume to whisper levels to avoid hearing it. Thankfully, Eleanor’s scenes without those distractions are fraught with tension and emotion and make the entire experience worthwhile.