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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Fit to be king
Lilli Dellheim '25 M.A., Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

A wistfully romantic ride

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Rowell’s first young adult novel, “Eleanor & Park” (Photo by Dominique Joe ’19).

Misfits fall in love in “Eleanor & Park.”

Looking for a novel to warm your heart amidst the bitter cold weather and maybe even make you believe in love again? That’s a tall order for sure, but Rainbow Rowell’s “Eleanor & Park” will do just that.

This novel, published in 2013, is the first young adult novel by Rowell which tells a poignant and beautiful story of first loves and the desperation and near-obsession that comes along with the often-misconception that they’ll last forever, set to the soundtrack of wistful 80s alternative hits.

This nostalgic young adult novel follows the unlikely romance between two star-crossed 16-year-olds: Eleanor Douglas and Park Sheridan. The story takes place over the course of the 1986-1987 school year in Omaha, Neb., where both teens are starting their sophomore year of high school.

Eleanor is the new girl at school, with vibrant red hair and whimsical outfits. She is bullied and teased at school, while also experiencing turmoil at home.

Eleanor has just returned to Omaha after being kicked out by her often-drunk, abusive stepfather Richie. She and her four younger siblings live in fear of their stepfather and in poverty, all sharing one tiny bedroom. Her biological father doesn’t seem to care for her at all unless he’s using her as a babysitter. Eleanor often witnesses her stepfather physically or emotionally abusing her mother.

Park is half-Korean, which coupled along with his small stature causes him to feel insecure about being different from his peers at school. He also feels different in his home, as if he is a disappointment to his masculine father, because he would rather read comics and listen to alternative music than participate in taekwondo. Unlike Eleanor, though, his home is filled with love.

The two teens meet on the bus on Eleanor’s first day at school, and it is anything but love at first sight. Park begrudgingly allows Eleanor to sit next to him, much to his own chagrin and amidst teasing from the “cool kids” at the back of the bus. They spend a number of bus rides in silence before eventually beginning to quietly bond over mixtapes and comic books. Their budding relationship is anything but easy, as it must overcome the bullies both at school and at home.

“Eleanor & Park” is told in dual narrative, with the point of view seamlessly switching between Eleanor and Park. This novel is powerful in its dealing with heavy themes such as bullying, body image, domestic abuse and child abuse. Eleanor and Park’s love story is one that will make readers of all ages smile, cry and root for the two misfits’ love to prevail. Good luck not feeling the need to finish it in one sitting.

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