Rainbow Rowell’s quirky and catchy style is in full fling in her second novel, Eleanor and Park. It’s 1986 in Omaha, and Eleanor is a 16-year-old, somewhat chubby, eccentrically dressed, broken-homed, flaming redhead. If that wasn’t enough, she has just transferred to a new school in the middle of term and has to find her place amongst the cool and cruel of the school bus ride, even before she steps into a classroom. But what makes Eleanor stand out is that she is totally unconcerned with how she appears to the rest of the kids. When she sits down next to Park, he instantly does his best to ignore her completely.
But some things can’t be ignored. First up Eleanor seems to be reading Park’s comic books over his shoulder. Then she openly is reading them. Then they start sharing music talk. And then … well, suffice to say that Eleanor and Park is an entrancing tale of the way friendship, and first love, is utterly unpredictable and completely irresistible. Told from both Eleanor’s and Park’s point of view, this novel is a walk down memory lane for anyone who has ever had a first love, especially during the 1980’s. Despite Eleanor’s unfortunate home life, she actually does come out better for it, with strength and resilience almost to a fault. And Park … being a half-Korean martial arts expert, and living a comparatively privileged life compared to the boy-next-door (who happens to be the school bully), he has little to fear from the cool crowd. But even he balks at this crazy redhead sitting next to him, until slowly a fascination builds and he finds himself growing up just a little.
The novel is disarmingly sweet, with enough realism to prevent it being cloying. I found it addictive, quirky and amusing, with all the right notes of romance and youth. I can’t wait to see what may be on the way from Rainbow Rowell in future.
Available now: Hachette RRP$27.99